Dealerships Rip You Off With The "Four-Square," Here's How To Beat It

Former used car salesman Alan Slone grows a conscience and reveals one of the major strategies dealership use to screw you when buying a new car.

At the heart of it all is the “4-square,” a sheet of paper (sample above) divided into four boxes: your trade value, the purchase price, down payment, and monthly payment. This is supposed to help you and the dealership come to an agreement, but as you’ll see, it’s really more akin to three-card monte dealer’s deck of cards. Many, but not all, dealerships use this tool.

Here’s 5 tips to get you started, and then a very detailed breakdown of how the dealership manipulates buyers with the four-square.


Once a car salesman knows you don’t need financing, they’re more willing to be forward with you and knows they don’t have to work on the payments with you, because it won’t help. We’ll still try to beat whatever APR you’re getting at the bank and offer you payment deals, but forget them. You’ve got it worked out, and only need to know the price – bringing us to the next point.


This seems obvious to most of the readers of The Consumerist, but most people miss this – especially if they’re getting dealer financing.


Know what the MSRP of the car is, know what your trade is worth. (Here’s a hint: take the NADA and subtract about $2K – used cars are appraised by books that aren’t published to the public, so it’s not blue book or NADA value. It’s called “black book” value; “black books” are published weekly by companies such as Manhiem Auto Auctions (, and these show the going price at the auction, that week, for your car. Basically, wholesale cost.)


If you read this article, you are already ahead of 99.9% of the people walking in. They’ll cut most of the bullshit with you if they know that you’re not going to fall for it.



The “worksheet” (or four-square, as it’s called) is the first thing a person will see when they sit down to negotiate a car’s price. This sheet is used both in used and new car sales. When the interested party sits down, they’ve already driven the car, and have talked to the salesman about what they’re looking for. The salesman has had the trade evaluated, if there is one, and has gotten the customers something to drink to take the edge off.

After sitting everyone down, the salesperson starts filing out the four-square. A blank one looks something like this:


The salesman will only put down the make, model, VIN and customers information (not pictured). Then, the salesman will have the customer initial the part that says “I will buy today if numbers are agreeable to both parties.” If there’s any resistance (which normally there isn’t), the salesman simply says that its to make sure that the customer really is ready to drive the car off the lot today – IF they can get the numbers right. I never had anyone not sign the form who was actually willing to buy the car today. By doing this, you have shown your commitment to the manager in the tower (tower: back room, usually behind glass, where the salesman goes to confer with his manager.)

(A note about the tower: This is where the deal actually takes place. The salesman you are dealing with is NOT who you are negotiating with – the sales manager, who sits behind a desk (and is usually one of the scummiest people you’ll ever meet) is who’s actually going to be haggling with you. This will not happen in front of you, nor will you see what is actually happening. It’s a bit of theatre, this part.)

The salesman will then take the paper up to the tower, and when he returns, you’ll see something like this:


The salesman will start, very matter-of-fact, going over the numbers with you. First, he’ll start with the value of your trade.

The value of your trade, as listed, is $3000. You, expecting at least 5k for your beater, are unhappy with the number. That’s fine, the salesman says. We’ll get to that in a moment. He then goes on, very quickly, to just state the price of the car. Salespeople are instructed to move over these parts of the sheet VERY QUICKLY, as you’ll see in a moment.

Next, he arrives at the down payment square, which is easily double what you’d hoped to put down today on the nice new Prius you now want very badly. Lastly, he arrives at the monthly payment. “That payment is outrageous! I can’t afford that!” is what you’re probably thinking. All in all, these are pretty crap numbers from what you see.

THESE NUMBERS ARE MEANT TO INSULT YOU AND PUT YOU ON THE DEFENSIVE, ESPECIALLY THE LAST TWO. The idea here is that, unless you’re really observant, to get you less concerned about the overall price of the car and what your trade is worth (we’ll go into trade manipulation in a moment), and get you to the payment plans offered at the bottom. The salesman, who knows you are steamed, will keep on acting like nothing is wrong, and hand you a pen to sign by the X. This is done for two reasons – 1)You might be the biggest, dumbest sucker we’ve had today and actually agree to these terms (happened twice the three months I did this), or 2) You look like the aggressor when you say you won’t sign.

When you decide state that those numbers don’t work for you, the salesman will ask which numbers you have a problem with. Most people will go straight to the down payment, as that’s usually the part that most people gag on, followed closely by the trade in value. The salesman will then either talk about your trade (and proceed to downplay the car as much as they can – that’s usually pretty easy), or will go directly to the down payment. Very discreetly, the salesman will fold the four square so that the only figures you see when you’re talking are the down payment and monthly payment.

The salesman will then say “Well, what were you thinking about putting down today on the car?” You’ll respond something like 1500, 1000 or even less if you’re in a bind and NEED the car but are broke. The salesman will nod, and act as if he’s empathetic with your plight – those bastards up in the tower *are* asking too much from you! He’ll then cross out the down payment number and write in the number you’re looking for.

At this point, the salesman will say something to the effect of, “Well, we may be able to get that down payment done for you. But, as I’m sure you know, the less you put down today, the more you’ll have to pay off on the car – so this payment is likely to go up. What were you looking to pay on the car for payments?” You respond, “I didn’t plan on paying that much, must less more!” The salesman will pause, hoping that his last line will sink in a bit and you’ll either acquiesce to the current number or offer something higher.

If you don’t, and insist that you were only planning on paying $300 a month for the car, the salesman will say, “I don’t think I can do this, I really don’t. But, I tell you what; my manager is crazy today and hasn’t sold that many cars – he’s really under the gun from upper management to get some cars out today, and he might just do this. Tell you what – if I can get these numbers, would you buy the car right now?” You say, “Well, sure, I guess.” The salesman will say, “Okay, can you write me a check for the down payment so I can take it up there? They’re not usually willing to turn down someone if I show up with cash in hand!” (Real reason? People are really unwilling, for some reason, to ask for a check back later if negotiations start to break down.)

Most people, at this point, will write the check – if the salesman is good enough with the snow job, people will honestly think that they’re getting a good deal and that they need to do everything they can to get the manager to cave and sell them the car for next to nothing. The salesman will also get you to sign the form, by the X, saying that you’re agreeing to the new numbers, not the old. He’ll then put on his “wish me luck” face, and trudge up to the tower to haggle with his boss, the mean ol’ manager.

(A note about the X: There’s nothing legally binding here, BTW. You could sign your SSN, your blood type, and your name all on that line – but there’s nothing binding on either party to make that happen. It’s a precursor to the real deal with all the lovely paperwork in finance…but not the actual deal. However, the dealerships make you do this so you’ll think its official and leverage yourself into thinking you may have just bought a car.)

The salesman will return, with a huge grin on his face, and something like this:


He’ll say, “Wow! He really is in a tough spot! He was willing to let this go for the down payment you wanted! But, like I was saying, he couldn’t really hit the payment you were looking for because he went down so far on the down payment, and he can let it go for this. (Motions towards new payment offer.) Would this work for you?” You will sit and look at the number, and wish you weren’t buying a car today but instead on vacation. You will either agree, and we’ll enter the final turn, or you’ll go another couple of rounds with them until they either meet you somewhere in the middle, or you start to walk out.

(Note about “walking out.” This doesn’t work if your offer is, truly, unrealistic. You need to do your homework before going in – this includes finding out how long the car has been on the lot [just driving by and seeing it for a couple of weeks is good ammo], what the going rate is for those cars, and above all else, securing your financing before you get there, so you’re more worried about the ACTUAL PRICE OF THE CAR instead of these bullshit terms.)

Now, lets say you’ve got a problem with the trade price, as well as the other figures (other than price.) The salesman (and manager) will probably agree to whatever price you want for your trade, within reason. So, assume the sticking point is that you want $5,000 for your trade – that’s fine, we’ll just say it’s going to be bought for $5000. We simply move around the price of the car to $2,000 more, and you’re in the clear. You don’t notice, we don’t say anything, and you feel happy. This is the way that dealerships do the whole “push pull or drag” sales where they’ll give you $5,000 for an engine block.

So, at this point, we’ll assume that you’ve gotten everything square and you’re ready to close the deal. Sometimes, if the manager feels especially nasty (or has gone a few rounds with you via the worksheet), they’ll come out of the tower and say “Folks, I’m (Douchey McDouchebag), the sales manager here. Congratulations! You’ve just bought a car! We were able to get the payments to $310 – I know you wanted $300, but that was the best we could do. That’s close enough, right?” They’ll nod their head (another psychological trick to get you to agree), and almost every time the person says “Yea, that’s fine!” The problem is, they didn’t realize that a $10 payment bump over a 5-year loan nets an extra $1k in profit for the dealership. It’s called “the $10 (or $15, or $20) close”, and I only saw it fail when a person was really, really exasperated with us. The deal ends, and you wake up in a year realizing that, somehow, you’re $6,000 upside down on your car, while the dealership is laughing all the way to the bank.

So, those are the major pitfalls associated with the four-square; it looks really unassuming on its face, but its designed to make you pay more, and not realize what’s going on. The manager, during negotiations, will write in BIG BIG letters, will turn over the sheet if he needs room, and will write over other things in order to make it as confusing and hard to deal with as possible in attempts to wear you down and make you sign.

The saying we used to have around the lot was “It’s like the Dallas Cowboys playing a Pee-wee Football team.” The average car salesman does this dance 4 times a day – you do it once every 3-5 years. They are better, and they will get you on some level. However, by doing stuff like this, you can control how much it happens.

Here’s what a finished four-square might look like:


(Photo by Scott Jacobs, courtesy Edmunds)

What are your four-square horror stories? How did you “beat the box?” — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kornkob says:

    Incidentally, the statement that all deals are handled this way is false.

    I’ve bought many cars and never once seen a 4 square or been asked to sign anything in advance of making an actual purchase.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good advice there but the fact is that the 4 square isn’t some universial tool.

    • PhantomPumpkin says:

      He never made that statement. Read the last line.

      “At the heart of it all is the “4-square,” a sheet of paper (sample above) divided into four boxes: your trade value, the purchase price, down payment, and monthly payment. This is supposed to help you and the dealership come to an agreement, but as you’ll see, it’s really more akin to three-card monte dealer’s deck of cards. Many, but not all, dealerships use this tool.”

  2. Pelagius says:

    What if you’re a member of the freakish minority of Americans who actually save money and would prefer to make the larger down payment? What leverage does that give you?

    • More_Cowbell says:

      Zero, if you don’t play it right. Went with my GF to buy her last car, and while I was telling her no no, these guys are asking too much, she paid $14k cash and I was barely able to get the price down at all… Can’t let the sales guy know you are in love with the car and will buy no matter what…

  3. mikesfree says:

    Great stuff.

    Just bought a new accord in March of 06. What I did though was find in on Ebay at a listed starting price. Went to the dealer, they had it and I said I would buy it for the starting bid. They were happy and I was too. It was super easy and from what I can tell, being on an accord forum and working with a friend who bought his accord shortly after mine, I didnt overpay either.

  4. I bought a car last September. They tried doing a variation of this (at a Mitsubishi dealership in Downers Grove, Illinois).

    I got away from the 4-square by telling them that I would pay for the car mostly with Cash would only have a loan amount (Lie). I said I wasn’t interested in anything but the bottom line price.. (Truth).

    Now that gas is nearly 3 dollars in Chicagoland… I bike everywhere.

  5. twonine says:

    nice article…
    I just this week started seriously considering buying a new car. It would be my first car buying experience, so it’ll probably be few months before I actually pull the trigger.

    I would love to see more of these car dealer insider articles!

  6. jeblis says:

    -Get financed before
    -Offer some value over the invoice (say 100)
    -If there are any rebates (know beforehand) have them subtract that from the above price
    -Make them show you the invoice (it may be less that what you saw online)
    -understand that they actually pay less than the invoice price listed (the manufacturer holds back about 3%) and refunds that to the dealer after it is sold.
    – after settling on a price; then talk about any trades you have. Make the car buying and the trade essentially two separate transactions.

  7. jeblis says:

    @Pelagius: If you get financed before from a credit union/bank that is esentially like paying cash for the whole car to the dealer. This is the best position to be in when negotiating.

  8. mfergel says:

    Good advice. I think that while not all deals may be done on a 4 square piece of paper like this, that’s essentially the root of the deal though. I just bought a vehicle a month ago and tried to work around most of these the best I could (and tell me if I was wrong). 1). I had no trade in. I told them I had a vehicle but would sell it outright on my own. They kept asking me to bring it in anyway, but I refused. 2). I was preapproved for my own loan through a credit union. They kept trying to get me to finance with them (saying they deal with several agencies) and they would find me the best deal. I told them that unless they could beat 5% interest (used vehicle) that I wasn’t interested. They dropped it at that point. 3) I told them I didn’t have a monthly payment in mind. I wasn’t interested in what my monthly would be, I was concerned about the price of the vehicle AS WELL as the total cost after tax, tags, etc. That was the price I negotiated on. 4) Down payment. I at first told them I was willing to put down $4,000 dollars but I wanted the vehicle for X dollars. Of course, I knew they wouldn’t do that price. I haggled with them a bit and then told the salesman I needed to think about it and would get back to them (I left). I called them back said again, I wanted it for the same price I mentioned earlier but I was willing to give them another $1,000 down. They budged a little from what they were willing to sell it for, but not enough. Again, I walked out saying I’ll think about it. At this point, I was ready to buy the vehicle but not without pulling out one more card. I went back the next day and told them I will drive the vehicle off the lot today but I needed them to come down to my original offer but I was willing to put $8,000 down. To be honest, I was willing to put $8,000 down right away, but they didn’t need to know that. I figured it left me some bargaining power. They came down a bit more (not to my asking price but I knew that). Ultimately, the vehicle was listed at nearly $26,000 (plus tax, title, fees, etc) and I was able to get it for $22,600 after all fees, so I think I did ok as I priced the vehicle out at several places and all were wanting more plus tax, title, etc.

  9. closer says:

    all this and much more is covered in an engaging read written by an undercover writer sent in by to be a car salesman for 6 months.

    he explains the 4-square, where profit comes from, and the best time of the year / month to buy.

    it’s really a great read.

  10. kenposan says:


    Can someone explain this?

    Last car my wife and I bought we haggled everything.

    1)Haggled price of car.

    2)Haggled trade in (actually, they gave us better deal than what we expected but we were prepared to haggle)

    3) Haggled financing. They offered an interest rate much higher than what we were willing to accept. They found us a better (fair) rate.

    4) Haggled extras. We got some simple stuff upgraded (mats, cargo net, the dealer placard removed from the car). We approached this as a joke with the salesman but he went there with us. We actually told them that failure to remove the placard was a deal-breaker. :)

    So had we not haggled everything, we would have had higher interest and no extras. I am confused.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      It’s pretty self-explanatory. Get your financing elsewhere BEFORE you go in. Tell them you don’t want to trade in until AFTER you make a deal on the car. Pretend you don’t want to, then, after you have agreed on numbers, go back on what you said. If you are focusing on all of those different aspects, it is easy for them to confuse you, or to get distracted from the price you pay for the car.

  11. Uurp says:

    I’ve purchased many cars and usually they pull out the 4-square. After getting suckered a few times we learned to get financing beforehand (never had to use it because the dealerships always managed to find a lower rate, they wanted the business more than our finance company) and focus intently on the asking price and base all other negotiations off that. Focus on the selling price! I used to try to “outsmart” the sales manager but always ended up losing, until I figured out to play dumb and keep insisting on the selling price. BUT watch out in the “finance office”–these guys are the real pros. Last time we bought, he sneaked a 10.9% interest rate into the contract when the agreement was for 4.9% (he then blamed the sales manager for the mistake even though the finance office prepared the contract), then he doubled the value (and tripled our cost) of an extended warranty, pure gravy for the dealership had we not noticed.

    We complained to the dealership’s CSR and received the warranty for free, a free set of tires (long story) and an abject apology. I think they were very concerened about what we’d write on the Customer Survey.

  12. dave.macgeek says:

    In buying 2 new cars recently, I can tell you that letting them do the negotiations is the wrong way from the start. I checked out Comsuner Reports, and my credit union has a site with great car buying advice.

    I found out from Consumer Reports what is most likely the price the dealer paid for the car (with the caveat that they often get volume discounts, so they really get it even cheaper), and I figured out how much the accessories I wanted cost.

    I then went to the dealership, and when I was ready to negotiate, I told them how much I wanted to pay for the car (I had a check from the credit union on me already), which was actually the price that Consumer Reports said the dealership paid for the car.

    Each negotiation was successful. Meaning that I paid approx. $2500 less than the MSRP.

  13. HearsMusic says:

    @jeblis: Another trick I once read about in Consumer Reports is to settle on a price for a car, then say, “Now, let’s talk lease. Starting with this price.”

    They must really love that.

    We have always used the “two transaction” method jeblis describes, and while it doesn’t make the salesman happy, it usually works out for us.

  14. Paul says:

    Something that the article talks around but doesn’t explicitly mention is that all of the negotiation over the down payment and the monthly payments didn’t change the actual price (the top-right square) at all. That’s the one that ultimately matters and which, with interest rates, will determine the size of your down payment and monthly payments. Ignore the bottom row until you’ve settled the issues in the top row.

  15. Mark says:

    @kenposan: The last two cars I’ve bought I told them that if they didn’t remove the dealer name sticker and the license plate runner advertising the dealership I would walk (and i was serious about it).

    In both cases, they removed both before I drove off the lot.
    My feeling is: if they want their name on my car it’s free advertising for them… they need to send me a check every month I keep their name on my car, or lower the price by $5k.

  16. qeyser says:

    Another useful website for car buyers is:

    It covers dealer’s tricks, how to get decent loans, discover real invoice prices — and everything else that has to do with buying a car — in breathtakingly obsessive detail.

  17. dorkbear says:

    One other tip – if you don’t have a trade and have your outside financing already buttoned up, e-mail multiple dealers in your area and solicit “all-inclusive, out-the-door” prices on the vehicle you want. Some will respond without giving you any pricing, others won’t respond at all, but you should be able to get at least a couple to bite.

    Then, play the responders against each other to get the price lower. Once you have a price that both sides agree is reasonable, schedule a time to go into the dealer to sign the paperwork and pick up the car. You can even request that they fax or e-mail all paperwork to you ahead of time so you can review without pressure and ensure all terms are what you have agreed to previously.

    With my last vehicle purchase, using these methods, I was in and out of the dealer in just about one hour with minimal stress.

    One other tactic that I have considered but never had to use – use the technique above to finalize your deal. BUT, also have a solid back-up offer from another dealer. Once you arrive at the first dealer, if they give you any BS, pull out the cell phone, use your speaker-phone option, and call the other dealer and tell them you have run into some issues at Dealer A and that you’ll be in their showroom ready to buy in 10 minutes. This is even better if the showroom is crowded and you can talk really loudly. Watch the color drain from your salesman’s face and chuckle modestly to yourself.

  18. Nick says:

    @kenposan: I think most salespeople assume they will be financing the car and will want you to haggle over the monthly payment. That way, they can adjust things behind the scenes (APR, duration, down payment) to make you get a lower payment. If you are getting dealer financing, every step in the negotiation process should include 1) the total price, 2) the APR of the loan and 3) the duration of the loan. The monthly payment can be mathematically calculated from those three pieces of info.

  19. squikysquiken says:

    I got taken for a ride (har har) on my first car purchase (bad deal and the car turned out to be a lemon). For my second car, I negociated everything before going to the dealership. I got them to fax me the final paperwork all filled up. I was prepared to walk out if anything didn’t match but there was no problem.

    Negociating “from home” makes it easier to keep a cool head and walking in with a paper trail you agree with makes it easier to stand your ground. It takes longer and not all dealers will do it but I think it’s worth the effort. With the papers, you can even shop around and ask other dealers to match each other’s offers.

    Don’t hesitate to walk out if you get a “That fax was just an estimate”. If you don’t have a fax, email is good too but getting a faxed copy of the paperwork is the best.

  20. dorkbear says:

    You could also bring your own version of the four-square, with the info you already know (from doing all your homework before setting foot in the dealership, right?).

    This would include:
    – the True Market Value price (TMV) from for the exact car with options that you want
    – your down payment amount
    – the % financing you’ve already lined up with your credit union
    – what the estimated monthly payment will be with these terms (use an online calculator to figure some ballparks)

    When the salesman sits down with his four-square, just grab it, crumple it up and say “we won’t be needing that”, and whip out yours.

    Say the following, word for word: “Let’s do this the easy way. I am not an idiot. Say one word that insults my intelligence and I walk. Consider this your one warning.”

    Ask him to sign on the bottom of your four-square and then suggest that you both go visit the sales manager.

  21. bp_lv says:

    The way I go about it is to contact the internet sales people from the websites and play them off of one another. I’ve been told they work off of volume rather than just price. It was a lot less haggling that way and I got $300 over “invoice” on a Sienna last year. They also tend to manage the costco deals as well, which is another easy no haggle way to buy a car.

    Another thing I do is go to carmax and get their no haggle offer on my trade in and make the dealer I’m really working with give me at least that price. (In NV, there is a sales tax credit if you do the trade in with the place you buy a car from.)

  22. Munkeyhatecleen says:

    I didn’t see the four squares when I bought my truck, but I did catch them trying another famous trick with the monthly payments.

    Say you’ve decided beforehand that you can afford a mo. payment of $250. When the finance manager asks you what you’d like pay monthly, you flat tell him “$250”. He then responds with an innocent sounding “Up to?” A common response is “Oh, I don’t know, $300, I guess”. BAM – you’ve just committed yourself (emotionally, and on paper soon) to a $300 payment.

  23. onetime1 says:

    I live in a small city with only one Toyota dealer. I drove to the nearest large city with five Toyota dealers. I handed each dealer a sheet that showed exactly the model, color, and option required. I listed the exact monthly payment for the exact number of months. I told them that I didn’t care what the trade in value, selling price or interest rate. I said – “Give me these payment terms and tell me the total downpayment. The range varied by over $3,000 but I ended up with a great price. By the way, the finance person tried to increase the percent rate. I told her to lower one of the other numbers but stick with the three agreed numbers – down payment – monthly payment and number of months.

  24. atswim2 says:

    The comment in the article said that the salesman negotiate 4 deals a day and the average consumer, very rarely. My bank (USAA) evens the field by providing a negotiating service for new cars. It works great.

    I go look at the car, pick what i want, and give USAA the VIN #. they call the dealership sales manager, say i want to buy if the price is right (and they know what the right price is) and then call me to confirm that yes, i want the car.

    the best part is telling the salesman that you are here to just pick out the car, and that you have someone else to work out the dollars.

    “Hey jerk, my people will work with your people for the price, you just show me the sapre tire again!”

    I know that when the consumerist topic is insurance, there is usually a USAA lovefest. The bank is nice, too.

  25. jeblis says:

    @Mark: My car didn’t have the name sticker or pin striping (it was fresh off the truck). I told them that if they did any of that, the deal was off.

    Oh and remember to make sure the floor mats are in the deal.

  26. EnderVR46 says:

    I’ve always gone in with financing done, knowing how much I had to spend and a note of the monthly payments per $1000. In the note book, I keep notes of whatever prices and other numbers they throw out. This way it’s always with me and I can run the numbers in my head while they’re playing around in the managers office.

    I get the price of the car worked out, and then tell them if I have a trade. I keep it secret until we have the price settled. This way they can’t change the price around, and I can negotiate separately.

    Basically a three step thing.

    1. Get the price of the car settled.
    2. Get the trade in settled.
    3. Sign and leave.

    Keep notes so they can’t try to trick you and have solid financing arranged. Tell them this first thing and that you will not be switching. That cleans up the process for me.

  27. dodava says:

    I purchased a new car a month ago and did it all via fax and email.

    First I consulted Consumer Reports to get an estimate of what the dealer’s cost was for the car. I also got pre-approved by my credit union and had a check in hand to present to the dealer. Then I waited until the next to last day of the month to contact dealers.

    I emailed each dealer with a request for price letting the dealers know that I was also contacting several other dealers in the area for pricing. I also included the dealer cost estimate from Cunsumer Reports and let them know that I considered that the reference point comparing offers and not the MSRP or invoice price. After receiving each dealers offers, I emailed all the dealers again with the lowest offer I had received and presented a final chance to beat it.

    I selected the best of these offers and had all the completed paperwork faxed to me. When I arrived at the dealer I test drove the selected vehicle to insure there were no issues with it and then completed the sale with no additional talk about pricing etc. The negotiated price was $50 above Consumer Report’s estimate of the dealer cost. On top of that I received $2000 in rebates, so I ended up paying $1950 below CR’s estimated dealer price, $4000 below Edmunds True Market Value, and $6000 below MSRP.

  28. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Yes, definitely negotiate the price of the car before talking about down payment, financing, or trade-in. Whether you already got financing from your bank or you’re planning on financing through the dealer, you should walk in there and ask them what the cash price is for the car, also known as the “out-the-door” price.

  29. donnie5 says:

    If you are buying a new car, and can take a GM, look for loyalty bonuses. My wife and I just bought a Saturn, and because she owned one 5 years ago they gave us $1000. On top of this we got 0% from GMAC. I do not want to advocate for anyone brand, but that is a good deal (we got $1500 for a trade that was a junker, $1000 bonus, 0%, and a GM employee discount) that was only $800 over MSRP on a new car. Oh, and let them know you are already working with the Mazda dealer down the street, suddenly they give you free drinks, a gas card, and anything else while you are working with the dealer.

  30. latrevo says:

    Last year, my wife and I bought our first car together. It was slightly used, but we found GREAT success with this method. I would find a car like we wanted at various dealerships using the internet. I would then email the dealership saying “Hey I’m interested in car X, and I’m willing to pay X dollars for it. Will you accept this offer?” 4 out of 6 dealerships tried to get me in or came back with a higher price, but 2 said, “yes, we agree.” I responded that, pending a test-drive, we’ve got a deal. Went to the dealership, test drove, and sat down with the numbers, numbers were what we agreed upon, and I walked out with a car in 45 minutes (including the drive!). I’ll never walk into a dealership again without the price already being set.

  31. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    CarMax is a pretty interesting approach to used cars… and they are blowing up!

  32. Buran says:

    I already have my new car on order with the factory. I already have invoice+500 locked in (kickass salesdude who belongs to a car club I’m in). I will be financing through bank or credit union when it arrives this June.

    I don’t anticipate staying longer than the paperwork takes, plus optional “sit around and blab with cool friend” time.

    Sat in on a finance sell once. It sucked. Not for me, ever.

  33. iMike says:

    No freaking way I’d sit down and go through this rigamarole.

    If I were to buy a new car again (and I’ve bought my share), I’d do what’s worked before:

    a) decide what car I want, and with what options
    b) canvass dealerships within a reasonable drive for the car (typically there will be a few)
    c) dealing with the fleet sales or internet sales manager, ask what the best price for the car is AND GET THE OFFER IN WRITING (email has worked for this every time)
    d) play the dealers against each other (e.g. dealer A says $20,000 and dealer B says $19,500. get dealer B to beat dealer A’s number). You won’t have to do this more than once
    e) don’t EVER finance at a dealer unless you get a loan rate subsidized by the mfg/mfg’s finance company, and even then, run the numbers to see whether you’re better off taking an additional discount.
    f) don’t buy anything else at that dealer. No extended warranty, no paint protector, no car alarm, NOTHING
    h) enjoy your new car.

  34. alterboy says: had a very large article I read a year ago called Confessions of a Car Salesman. It goes into detail about new and used car sales techniques as well as the dreaded 4 square sheet. 3 out of the last 4 dealerships I’ve visited used the sheet.

  35. iMike says:


    add to point c) above: “check the number against an online invoice service e.g. Edmunds to ensure you are in the right ballpark. Make sure you net out any direct to consumer or dealer cash back. has all these incentives spelled out by manufacturer. If you’re not in the right ballpark, reply to your bidders with your expectation on price, and ask them to beat it. Itemize the expectation by showing the invoice number, cash back, dealer holdback, etc.”

  36. saerra says:

    Great advice, thanks guys!

    @kenposan: I assume the “don’t negotiate anything but the final price” just means don’t negotiate for a monthly payment (for example). It leaves too much wiggle room for them to overcharge you on the car, without it being visible. You could get a really low monthly rate, but extended over an obscene amount of time for example.

    Some other tips:

    – Don’t buy the warranty at the same time. If you want a warranty (from the manufacturer) you can usually get them cheaper online after you already have the car.

    (Or at the least, look up warranty prices online before you go, so you can identify a good deal!)

    – I completely agree with others about knowing the invoice price (or as close as possible) before you go in. I worry when I hear people say, “I got it for $X less than MSRP!” – you should NOT be negotiating down from MSRP, but up from the invoice price.

    – Another way to help separate out your trade-in price and your buy price is to get a quote from CarMax beforehand. In some cases, you’re better off just selling the old car to CarMax (my friend was unable to get a dealership to match the CarMax price on his used truck).

    Just be aware, in some states (if I understand right, and I’m definitely not a lawyer!) you can get a tax benefit by trading in the car at the dealership rather than selling it to CarMax (or anyone else) separately. In GA (again if I have this right) for example, you only pay tax on the cost of the vehicle MINUS the trade-in amount, but that only applies if you actually do the trade-in with the same party that you buy the new car from.

    – Getting quotes from different dealerships is good… you can also check prices with various car-buying groups you might qualify for (Costco, maybe AAA or credit unions). Compare to online prices (someone mentioned Ebay already, CarsDirect works too).

    Also – I found this recently. A non-profit that will call around and do your negotiating for you:

    (I’ve never used them, and they charge ~$200, but they are non-profit…) Could be helpful if you’re not very good with the negotiating aspect of it all.

    – Anyone have experience with getting “doc fees” dropped? I know they’re BS fees, and in some states illegal apparently. Around here they can be upwards of $500 (!!!). I tried on my last car purchase to get them removed and couldn’t :(

    What I’d really love to see is an article on not getting ripped off with car maintenance and repairs. I seem to have tons of trouble in this area. I’m a single female, and not at all automotively-inclined. My last car went in for routing maintenance at a AAA certified repair shop… they recommended tons of stuff. I declined (I had been following the maintenance routine from the manufacturer). Car ended up dying on the interstate (ON THE INTERSTATE!!!) the next day while I was driving to work, and was never the same after :( Bleh.

    Thanks :) This is my first post (hopefully ;) ) and I just gotta add – I’m loving the Consumerist. Found it a few weeks ago, and am really enjoying it, so thank you!

  37. Ayrton Senna says:

    I’m pretty sure I ranted in the comments ~2 yrs ago about how to buy a car. It was right around the time MS was being coy about a LS7 disco chicken. Anyway. I shared my years of wisdom in the car business and every time I see a moronic article like the one above, I feel obligated to respond.

    First of all, I’ll assume that you have a reasonable level of competency and some spine. The author, AS, fails to give you this benefit of the doubt.

    People seem to be scared when they walk into a dealership, as if they’ll be hoodwinked or bamboozled into giving up WAY too much loot for a car they don’t want. Don’t be an idiot. If you have the money to buy a car, you probably have had enough success to convince me that you aren’t a candidate for the short bus. So man up, grow a pair, and buy your next car the right way. Here’s how…

    1) Do your homework AT HOME. Figure out what you want ahead of time. If you’re looking at several models, drive them but resist the temptation to discuss price until you are sure you want to buy. If you have to compare payments, get a payment on the car you like best, and then see whether the competitors can beat it by a sufficient amount to switch you.
    Know what options are “must have” and what are “like to have.” Know your first three color choices. If you are really picky on options and color, you don’t have much leverage when it comes to negotiating, so remember that flexibility is your friend.

    2) Go to the dealership. You can’t fit a car through the little holes in the phone, and they keep getting stuck in my usb port. Settle on the car you want — you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you’ve been approached at this point; it’s irrelevant and pride won’t get you a bette price. Drive the car. Even if you’re looking for 911s and you’ve driven thousands of other 911s, drive the car. DO NOT DISCUSS PRICE.

    3) The salesman, hopefully, will ask if this is the car you want to take home. DO NOT LIE — say “yes.”

    4) 90% of buyers today are payment buyers. Yet, they’ll spend hours negotiating the price, the trade-in, the finance rate, etc. If you’re paying cash, offer a realistic number and be quiet. By realistic, I mean one which allows the dealer a small profit — you don’t work for free and neither should anyone else. If you are a payment buyer, simply say “I can go to $550/month. I’ll take delivery RIGHT NOW for that figure.” Then be quiet. Most people talk themselves right out of a car deal by worrying about the money factor or the finance rate. If they can get to the payment I want, I don’t care if they’re robbing me blind on the rate; good for them. You will need to provide credit information at this time; don’t take offense.

    5) That’s it. I bet it will work every time. If you are truly ready to buy RIGHT NOW, you can negotiate a great deal. You have leverage. If you’re unhappy, walk out. If they can’t get to your number, thank them for their time, and tell them to call you when they can get to it.

    6) As for the finance office, you should know your payment before you walk in. In fact, I wouldn’t dream of walking in there until I knew my payment. If you’ve put nothing down, get GAP insurance. If you want an extended warranty, buy one — if not, don’t. Most of the other stuff is crap.

    Remember that you are in control and can always leave. Be honest about what you are trying to accomplish and you’ll find the dealership experience FAR more agreeable. Sorry for the length.

  38. Pelagius says:

    @jeblis: Thanks!

  39. IshmealMathers says:


    Lucky. I tried to order from the factory a civic and got screwed. Was called 24’s before we were to pick it up that what we wanted wasn’t ever made. I’d actually love to know how to buy to order if possible.

  40. Kornkob says:

    @iMike:”e) don’t EVER finance at a dealer unless you get a loan rate subsidized by the mfg/mfg’s finance company, and even then, run the numbers to see whether you’re better off taking an additional discount.”

    This isn’t always good advice. Sometimes the dealership can get you better rates. Have your best financing lined up and ready to go from your bank but be willing to tell them (AFTER negotiating a price) to put together their best finacing.

    On another note: I haven’t intentionally set this up but…it might also be possible to put pressure on your sales guy with a well timed ‘new customer’. Story: last time I bought a car I was sitting at the guy’s desk while he once again went back to his boss to clear my final handful of demands (half were reasonalbe– the others were jsut me seeing what they’d let me get away with– like a year’s worth of car washes). While I sat there someone came in and talked to a different salesman and asked about the specific car I was looking at (used). They sent that guy away. Then I started making noises like I was done negotiating and was going to leave (and I was willing to— I had a car that worked, this was jsut an upgrade) I suddenly got addditional traction in negotiation and got a better deal (and several extras— like 6 free car washes) than I expected.

    Maybe next time I’ll try to send a friend in at the right time and play that game again.

  41. mglasspo says:

    Well, I used a few tricks here.

    I started with a price in mind, knowing what I wanted and what I was willing to pay.

    I needed financing, I hadn’t worked it out with the bank, so I decided to negotiate the monthly cost down, while keeping the other numbers the same, the term, the downpayment.

    In the end, all I cared about was how much I paid. You can factor what you think your trade is worth into your downpayment number which should never change if it makes it easier for you.

    I went in to one dealership and haggled with them to get a taste for it and where they were willing to go with the low model of the car I wanted, even though I knew I wanted the high model. When they stopped, I walked away.

    I then went into another dealership and began with the other dealership not offerring something that I needed – all dealerships are different, find out what they offer and use it. And told them the price I was willing to pay was equal to whatever I had previously negotiated, but tell them it’s for the higher trim package.

    They will tell you that it was a great deal and try to say they can’t hit it. Let them go to the manager and “work it out”, I did this and stuck to my guns – I ended up getting the car for $20 less a month than the other dealership as an “incentive” for going to them.

    I also avoided other costs in the deal by negotiating the montly payment. If it was an add-on fee, I insisted it be rolled into the cost. The licensing cost got rolled in, as did the financing fee, the PDI and delivery cost – they tried about 15 different things to bring up the price.

    On my inspection, I made it a white glove inspection, had the car re-cleaned and a couple of slightly scratched (and I do mean slight) parts replaced.

    I think my salesman was very happy to see me go.

  42. SadSam says:

    All in all, just more support for the premise that cars (depreciating assets) should be bought with cash.

    Also, I’ve heard that if you buy your car from the Internet salesperson at a dealership you avoid all of this crap.

  43. When the salesman sits down with his four-square, just grab it, crumple it up and say “we won’t be needing that”, and whip out yours.

    @dorkbear: That would be all kinds of awesome.

  44. mknoll says:

    You can take your car to Car Max and they will offer you a no haggle cash price for your car in under an hour that is good for 7 days and a few hundred miles. WHen I bought my car I did this and then took the CarMax offer to the dealership and said that if they couldn’t match it I would sell it to Carmax. We worked on the other items such as finance rate (I already had a preapproval) but mostly we were able to talk about price which is what the dealer has the most impact on. They tried to match it but ultimately I ended up takgin it to CarMax which worked out fine. THey took the car and handed me a check. It was a bit of leg work but ultimately easier than negotiating with the dealership.

  45. hypnotoad says:

    The only other thing I would add is:

    Don’t trade in your current car; sell it privately.

    If you trade your car in, you’re looking at two transactions instead of one, giving the salesman twice the ammunition to muddle the numbers.

    Plus, they’ll only offer you wholesale value on your car since they have to sell it again and make a profit. If you sell it yourself, you’re getting retail value.

    Obvious tips: make sure your car runs fine, is very clean, etc. Have it cleaned professionally, inside and out, it makes buyers more confident that you’ve taken care of your car, and makes the car more appealing as a vehicle that is ready to be driven away.

    Unless your car is a sportscar, you don’t have to worry too much about weirdos showing up to test-drive it. All the buyers who came to drive the few I’ve sold were normal folks looking for a decent car.

  46. aka Cat says:

    Why not take the dealer financing?

    Start out telling them that you’ve already got a great deal with your credit union / bank, of course. And that the only things that need to be discussed are trade-in value and purchase price. (I don’t let them discuss down payment, either.)

    Once you’ve got the trade in and purchase price where you want them, then you offer to let them beat your pre-approved financing. I’ve never had one not beat it, yet. (Can you tell I buy new cars too often?)

  47. mantari says:

    I would love to see more of these car dealer (or other) insider articles!

  48. mantari says:

    Also… be wary of dealer financing. It may end up actually being “61 months” instead of 60. And you’ll feel screwed once you find out that your interest is compounded _daily_, so they’re robbing you on your effective APR as well (in effect, an invisible tax on your interest rate).

    Even IF the dealership could offer me as good of rates as my credit union, I would pass.

  49. aka Cat says:

    @mantari: Even if the credit union is offering 5.5%, and the dealer is offering 1.9% ?

  50. virgilstar says:

    This is where mobile internet really kicks a$$. Having a Treo, and being able to call their bluff on any numbers they pull out of the air, is a big help.

    One other trick I encountered – I’d seen the car outside the dealer for about 3 months, and then magically when I happen to go in an ask about it, they have someone else come in and take it out for a test drive. Needless to say it was still there the next week, and this was likely just a buddy of theirs trying to create the impression that the car was “in demand” and I’d better make a deal fast.

  51. nerevar says:

    i’ve used and its honestly the best source i’ve found about car buying out there. i’ve used their spreadsheets to figure out what price i should get the car for after taxes, etc, but havent taken it in to the dealership because i pretty much had it memorized.

  52. Buran says:


    It depends on the make. Volkswagen does do the typical “dealer orders cars, they show up on the lot, you pick from what’s there or do a dealer trade” but the better dealers/salespeople will place an order for you for exactly what you want.

    When the order is placed for a customer who has submitted a deposit, the order is marked as a “sold order” and other dealers cannot open the details sheet (VW’s ordering system seems IE-based from the screenshots the salesguysent me for my photo scrapbook) for the vehicle. VW also places your name right on the window sticker when the vehicle is delivered (something else for my scrapbook). You select everything that goes into the car.

    For VWs, the wait time is approximately 12 weeks although it can and does sometimes vary — my ETA is June 11th although it could slip a bit; that’s fine as I want to actually buy (and start paying) this summer. I asked what the lead time was back in January and timed the order to take advantage of it.

    If you are interested in a Volkswagen, definitely ask “Will you order what I want, for the price negotiated?” If they say no, or tell you they can’t do custom orders, call someone else.

    For other makes, find a fan forum for the make you are interested in and ask around if you can’t find the answers you seek by searching the messages already posted. While the forums seem to be filled with a lot of repetitive fluff sometimes, there’s enough nice people (at least on that you’ll find your answer soon enough. Actually, I do suggest the car purchasing forum on that site — you can get questions about ALL makes answered there, not just VW, since the purchasing forum shows up on all of the “affiliate” car fan sites owned by Vortex Media Group (Mazda, Subaru, Volvo).

    (As for VW’s reliability problems… I haven’t been bitten, but I’m careful with my vehicles, know cars well, especially VWs, and the bumper-to-bumper warranty is 4 years on the 2007 GTI. If anything breaks and the warranty expires I’m not afraid of fixing it myself if it’s something within my abilities.).

  53. Buran says:

    @Buran: @IshmealMathers:

    I should note however that we don’t have the full flexibility European customers get for a total mix-and-match; we’re still restricted to option packages. But you still get to get your car without having to worry about someone beating you to it, or having to find the exact combo you want in the color you want. In short, any combo you can build on you can order.

    I wanted a 4-door white GTI with “package 2” (leather sport seats, dualzone climate control) and navigation and an ipod connector rather than a CD changer, the rubber floor mats (standard ones are carpeted), the kind you can just blast with a hose to clean, and a few other small things. And that’s what went on the order sheet, and that’s what will roll off the truck with MY NAME on it. No worries about another dealer scooping it out of the factory queue for another customer — they can only mark/take cars that aren’t sold orders.

  54. Greg L says:

    The easiest thing to do is to do your car research on the Internet and completely avoid the slimy ‘sales people’ at car dealerships who exist entirely to steal as much money from you as they can.

    Use the Rizzo method (google it) and you’ll deal with fleet managers who don’t have a personal commission stake in your sale and will be interested in giving you the best deal. Yeah, car salesmen hate it, but unless you’re a car salesman, who cares?

  55. CBR2200 says:

    Good article except one thing, never ever trade in your current car. Sell it privately. You will always benefit from selling the car yourself assuming its not a POS. The sales tax benefit of trading in is not a factor for the 99.9% of us that aren’t trading in an 06 Porsche for an 07 Porsche. I usually sell a two year old car for around 30% more than “trade-in value” according to, which is still more than the dealer will give you anyway. I figure I save myself close to 40% of the current value of my “trade” by selling myself. I can’t stress enough to sell your car yourself.

    Also, as a frequent new car buyer, the best advice is do your homework, and the deal, from home where you are comfortable and confident. Arrange your financing, research the invoice price, make the deal online. You should be at the dealer to confirm and sign the contract you already approved and take delivery. That’s it. Do not even try to haggle in person, there is no reason to risk it. You are probably not a professional negotiator, they are. When you deal online, everything is black and white, you have time to examine everything, and your emotional state is not a factor. Be prepared to walk away if they try a bait and switch. I’ve never experienced this but I’ve heard it happens. Bring copies of all your emails just in case there is a discrepancy.

    I have purchased many new cars over the years. The first time they got me with the 4 square. I ended up being a victim of the $10/mo thingy. I gave in, ehh whatever, it’s only $10/mo, right? I drove my new car home thinking I was unhappy with my negotiating skills and I wouldn’t let that happen again instead of loving my new car. That was a learning experience for me. Every time after that I have driven my new car home knowing that I got the EXACT deal I wanted and that it was fair and that I LOVE my new car.

  56. castlecraver says:

    @Ayrton Senna:
    If they can get to the payment I want, I don’t care if they’re robbing me blind on the rate; good for them.

    Wow. And I thought the image of a customer walking in with “sucker” written on his forehead was just a metaphor.

  57. Miguel Valdespino says:

    I used and to work my deal over the internet. I actually ended up getting it for $100 under invoice. (obviously the dealer had other benefits from the manufacturer). It took 1hr 15 min, and that was including the test drive and a round trip between two dealerships. (The internet sales manager had an office at another dealership in the group.)

  58. IshmealMathers says:

    Thanks! I was wanting a civic 2006/7 dark blue stick. Heck I even “gave” 500 deposit when I placed the order, because the salesman said it possible. I couldn’t find anything that said it wasn’t. (combo was even on What a load of BS. Hell I was even will to pay abit more to be specific and they didnt care. They offered something like 100 dollars of “extras” and that was it.

    Got my money back went to another dealer and bought one for the original price I was wanting that day. Acceptable enough replacement.

    I will keep what you said in when I go to replace my wife’s car. She loves VW’s!

  59. LintMan says:

    A few things I learned after getting ripped off on my first car purchase:
    – I made a pretty hard bargian for the price of the car itself, but later realized the dealer had tacked on man many hundreds of dollars in outrageous bogus fees (beyond the typical regional advertising ones and such).
    – I had questioned the salesman about some of those fees and he gave vague worthless answers that I meekly accepted instead of calling bs. I was afraid of making too antagonistic a relationship with the dealer because I was expecting to be doing my warranty service work there (it was the only dealer of its type in the area) and thought they’d remember me and screw me on service (beyond the usual).
    – A friend who had worked at a dealer later assured me that the service side is totally separate and doesn’t know or care what where or how much you bought your car for or if the salesguy liked you or not. This has been plainly true in my experience since then.
    – Don’t be afraid to question any fees that show up and demand real explanations for them and their removal if unwarranted or undesired. I’ve never had a dealer try that with me again, but I’m prepared for it now.

    Other general advice:
    – If you’re buying a car on the lot you can generally get a better deal than if they have to trade for it or order it.

  60. cds2 says:

    Extremely interesting! In my experience, the best route is to do a private sale of your car and, like the article states, secure your own financing. Another tactic I’ve used in the past is to negotiate the ‘soft’ costs like scheduled service. Knowing that things like labor are easier for them to eat, I’ve been able to get them to throw in the next X number of scheduled services, which are usually marked up ridiculously anyway.

    Would love to see a variation from a motorcycle perspective. I’ve been playing the dealer game in Southern CA and have noticed the brand dealers are consistent with regard to their tactics, but the variation between brands is amazing. Unfortunately the amount of resources available on the net are less than helpful.

  61. potskie says:

    Good Article and Advice.

    Reading this reminded me of when i bought my last truck. I am one of those types who hates financing and would rather wait and save up the money than be indebt to someone else.So when i bought my last truck i let the saleman go through his whole routine and then i just said to him if you knock off 2000 and have it plated and ready for me to drive off the lot by closing time I will bring you a cashiers cheque for the full amount when i come to pick it up. Other wise i would go down the street to another dealership and not come back here. Sure enough 7pm that day i was driving my new truck.

  62. tadowguy says:

    Here’s my annoying dealer trick. I pick out a car from and after calling to see that it’s still available, I head into the dealer. Mr Salesgenius comes out and we do a test drive, then get back and start to talk numbers. He comes out with the paper. “Now that car is $19000…” I mention (shocked) that that’s not what’s on (the info I have with me, printed out). After hemming and hawing, Mr Salesgenius says something like “wow, thats a LOW price, you’re already getting a REALLY GOOD PRICE here.” As if, apparently this will prevent me from future negotiations. I did walk out that day (I never, ever, ever buy a car in the first visit), but I ended up going back, and negotiating.

  63. sam-i-am says:

    How to buy a car:

    1. Go to dealership
    2. Smack yourself for going to the dealership
    3. Buy the car privately

    You will almost always get a car cheaper if you buy from a private owner. I bought a $17,500 (dealer price) car for $15,000 from a private owner and mine was in much better condition.

    The thing you have to worry about is that there is no warranty (not usually for used cars anyway), but you can pay $50 or so to have the car inspected before you agree to buy it, and pay $500 for a 3rd party warranty and you still come out on top.

    You don’t have to deal with scummy salesman, only people on your level – people who have as much experience buying and selling cars as you do – and most importantly, people who either aren’t smart enough or don’t care enough to scam you.

    The car is worth $10,000? Yea, I could let it go for $9000. They’re excited to sell it so they can get on to the next thing.

    I tried a few dealers, yea they’re nice and everything, but they’re only nice because they think they can rip you off more. I’ll never buy from a dealership.

    Two mistakes: Buying a new car and buying it from a dealership. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, quite literally, trying to sell you something.

    If you want a newish car, buy one that is a year old.

    That is all.

  64. PandemicSoul says:

    Let me second the Edmunds article. It goes into the four square and all the stuff going on behind the scenes in the glass tower very in depth.

    Also, I’ve heard from a few people that AutoByTel is the way to go. Here’s an Ask MeFi where they talk about it.

  65. mc331 says:

    OK – here is my bit of advice. What is listed above is great advice, and you should try to avoid the 4-square deal. If you have a trade, you know what that trade is worth, and you have a car picked out and you have done the research on the new car, follow these steps on a used car purchase:

    1) Have financing lined up outside of the dealership ahead of time, but always check with the dealership when you purchase to see if you can get a better rate/terms using the dealers financing sources. Sometimes (especially on older or specialty used vehicles), the dealership may have better terms than what is available through your other financial institution.

    2) Go into the dealership with the following number in mind: The difference in price you are willing to pay between your car and the trade. This is the only number that really matters, in most places, this is what you will pay sales tax on (in most places), and this is how much will be added to your financed amount.

    3) Negotiate the trade difference number, and this number alone, it is irrelevant what your trade is worth or what the dealership’s car is worth. If you want the difference to be $5,000, it doesn’t matter if the dealership writes the purchase order as Trade value = $100,000 or trade value = $1, as long as the total price on the bottom line is $105,000 or $5001. Let the dealership deal with the accounting.

    NOTE: if you live in a state or municipality that taxes you based on total purchase price of a vehicle, you will need to negotiate that number as well, but stick to your guns on the differnce in price.

    4a) After the sale process has been completed and you are pretty sure you will be buying the car, the saleman will direct you to a “Finance” manager or rep. In the industry, these individuals are known as F&I managers (that stands for Finance and Insurance) their job is to make the dealership profit. The profit made on the sale is scant compared to this stuff. Listen carefully, and politely decline everything. (Do you really need paint chip protection on a 5 year old car?) Except: See 4b…

    4b) A tip to amend point 4a… Sometimes, you can get away with a really good deal on your car deal if you are willing to purchase something from the F&I guy – ask. If the dealership is coming back at you with a differnce of $7,000, and you want to spend $6,000, offer the dealership a differnce of $5000, and you will buy $1000 worth of Insurance and warranty products. You will be immensly surprised of how well this works as that $2000 drop might lose the dealership $400-500 on the car, but the $1000 in insurance could give the dealer $750 profit.

  66. arthurtem says:

    Here’s another example, and there’s even a secret audio recording. This guy got ripped off on a lease, and the recording proves it. The dirtbag dealer is called ‘Stockton to Malone’ in Salt Lake City:

  67. mmm43 says:

    When I was searching for my new car, dealers where more than happy to show me the CarFax report for it.

    Interestingly they are also lazy: they request it only once and just print the website report. The report is – surprise – fine, but I wasn’t really interested in that (I expected that it was fine anyway – otherwise they probably wouldn’t offer the report to begin with), I looked on the top of the page: when was this report printed? Ahh, a month ago…

    Very handy later, when I actually talked about the price for that car (I also knew the comps in the area, so I offered a reasonable amount and had my financing).

    BTW: I allowed the dealer to offer me their financing and it was actually better (I had my financial calculator with me to play with the numbers fast than them). Good for them and me.

  68. travis says:

    I bought my last car (used ’99 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon) from Van Bortel Subaru (in Victor, NY just outside of Rochester):
    They have a “no BS” pricing policy and are amazing to deal with when it comes to purchasing a car.

    When looking at cars I was handed a magnetic license plate from a salesman and he said to just test drive any car I wanted, they all had the keys in them. I was amazed, I didn’t have to even show them my license. This allowed me to try out lots of cars without having the back and forth with the salesman every time.

    When I test-drove the car that I ended up purchasing from them, they didn’t take a deposit to hold it, they just took my name and held it for me. It took me over a week to get it financed from my local credit union and they weren’t even the slightest bit annoyed. They even offered me a free drink when I was buying the car, I wasn’t thirsty, but they said I should at least take one for the road.

    My wife was looking to trade-in her high-mileage Jeep when gas prices first spiked a few years ago. We test drove a few cars while they appraised her Jeep. When we came back we asked how much the trade-in would be and they said we “didn’t even want to know” because, due to its high mileage, they couldn’t give us more than she had owed on it. They actually told us to wait until it was paid off because then we could get a better deal. How many car salesman give you good financial advice?

    I think that its reasons like this that are why they are not only the largest Subaru dealer in the country, but they are also the most profitable. The warranty work I had done on my car their kinda sucked (had to complain several times to get problems fixed), although their $8/day loaner cars were pretty sweet and it was kinda nice that they were open until midnight too. I’d still buy from them again and always recommend them to people.

    Really I can’t picture myself ever haggling over a car again. Unfortunately Van Bortel only has 2 dealerships: Subaru and Ford. So that pretty much limits my buying choices next time to Subarus, Fords, Saturns and now Scions.

  69. demarman says:

    Well, since it seems that plugging dealers here is acceptable, I’ll put my plug in. First of all, I’ve seen this and many many other games played on people over the years, and had many a salesman try these games on me.

    Second, if you live in the Washington DC area, don’t buy any car until you at least talk to one of the Fitzgerald dealerships. Both my dad and I have bought cars from them – they are a one-price dealer with absolutely no hassle at all. You don’t want to trade your car? Fine. You want to pay cash? Fine. You don’t want the extended warranty? Fine.

    By the way, “fees” = “profit”. Do you really think it costs the dealer $299 to type up your documents?

  70. tmba2002 says:

    The first new car I bought, I really got screwed over on. It happened twelve years ago, and my wife and I still don’t talk about it. I’ve learned my lessons, and now its almost a fun experience.

    Here a few hints I’ve learned over the years.

    1) As everyone has been saying, do your homework. The internet is great. Get the cost of all the options you want. Many sites have both the actual dealer cost of factory installed options and the MSRP. Also find out if there are any rebates, dealer money, rebates, hold backs etc. You want to determine what the dealer’s actual cost is for the car and mark it up by about 3%. Hey, they do have to make some money and, and the dealer costs posted on the Internet are usually high anyway. A good place to look is at the web forums, sometimes you’ll find an employee from a dealership will post the real dealer price sheets.

    2) Get your financing pre-approved from your bank or credit union. Know the interest rate, APR and terms of the loan. Also, learn how to calculate the monthly payments given the terms of the loan. Get a business calculator and take it with you when you go to the dealership.

    3) When you walk up to the salesman, tell them that you don’t have a trade-in and this will be a cash deal. Your pre-approved remember, when you close the deal, they will write the invoice up such that if you don’t bring in your check from the credit union within a week to 10-days then you’ll automatically get a dealer financed loan.
    Negotiate the bottom line price of the car, including taxes and license. At this point you have two goals; 1) Get your car at your price, and 2) Tie up the salesman as long as possible. He either makes a deal with you, or you walk out of the dealership at closing. You just ruined his sales for that day.

    4) If you think that the salesman and the sales manager are scum, wait until you meet the finance guy. His job is to undo everything you just negotiated. I bought a car and was “promised” free floor mats, but when the finance guy wrote up the invoice, the sales price of the car was $200 more. When I pointed it out, he corrected it and said it was a typo. This is where you need to be careful and that calculator comes in handy. The finance guy is going to try to sell you the dealer’s financing. There are only two variables that you can negotiate here, the interest rate and the length of the contract. When you pull out your calculator and ask him what rate can he give you and how does it compound and he sees that you can crunch the numbers he won’t BS you. Hey, you might even get lucky and get a better deal than your bank or credit union. Its never happened to me though.

    5) The other thing that the finance guy will do is try to sell you dealer installed extras, just say no! You want to change the wheels, or by an after-market stereo, shop for them on the Internet. Also, don’t by the extended warranty, the tire warranty or any other warranty that they are selling. A trick I learned is to tell them that your credit union will not allow you to finance the cost of the warranty or any dealer installed extras. In my case its true, my credit union wants you to buy their 3rd party crappy extended warranty. If you really want the factory extended warranty tell him that you have to do a cash deal for it on the side. I’ve done this and got a hefty discount.

  71. tiga31328 says:

    I bought my vehicle 2 years ago, my second “new” car purchase. I went into the dealership with my financing in place(check in hand even). I had researched my vehicle for features and pricing, and brought the ‘build your vehicle’ form from the manufacturers website to keep track of features. The salesman showed me some vehicles but didn’t have the one that I wanted, they tried to push a loaded package on me for thousands more so I was walking, as I’m leaving the dealership I notice one of my vehicle that they hadn’t shown, a filthy one on a display by the road. It was dirty, but was the one I wanted, I had to wait while they brought it down, then detailed it, arrrgghhh, it took forever! Then we sat down, they did have the four square sheet, and this was a ‘no-haggle’ dealer. I knew what the value was on the sale of the truck, and that haggling over the trade-in, with no intention of any cash out of my pocket. The first offer was nuts, they wanted to give me half of the low end of what my trade-in was valued at. It had a few dents in the hood and the manager cried hail damage. We went through a couple of rounds of haggling, then I noticed on their form to get my price down there was a first time buyer discount, and a factory rebate for nearly 4 grand, I was like, ‘where did this come from’, and they were saying that they were trying to make the deal work, I cried B.S. about them wanting money down and trying to screw me out of 4 grand, and got ready to walk. I also called my sister, they didn’t like that at all, and that I was standing at the dealership talking up how the screw was on and I was walking. Then the sky parted, the Moon light shown down and they came back with double the offer on the trade-in, and the first time buyer and factory rebates. I went from them wanting 4 grand down to paying 3 grand less overall for the vehicle. So you HAVE to watch them, that is for sure. Go prepared for the pricing and what a trade is worth, and go prepared to just WALK if it’s getting too crazy.


  72. rten says:

    I scraped more than 25% off the sticker quite easily.

    The dealer has tools in their pocket, asking you questions about things in this order, what vehicle, what kind of trade in, then “payments”, then the vehicle price, then surprise you at the end with dealer fees. I work these in reverse, the question they casually ask while wandering around the lot WILL be used against you. Tell them right away you will not discus trades, financing, money factors, or anything else. Take control, you have what they want ($$), not the other way around. Don’t fear, another slimey dealer is just a few miles away with the same sheet metal, a vehicle in the same color…..

    1. Pick a vehicle you would buy, write the VIN on the contracts and tell the dealer to write on the back of sales contract (the true legal purchase form you will be signing) every fee EXCEPT the vehicle cost as a line item with the words “dealer determined fee” or “exact fee required by law”. Suddenly paperwork fees go from 35 bucks to the 6 bucks required by law. Prep fees vanish, delivery fees get whacked in half and the mysterious few hundred in fees get scraped down to nothing. I took the liberty of crossing out and replacing the values on the front of the contract with the “updated values”. Sure they told me I wasn’t allowed to do that, my response, “I just did, you agreed to them on the same piece of paper (on the back)”

    2. I bring out my adding machine and use for ALL math going forward (laugh all you want) and added up the fees and wrote the total fees on the back of the form. Now mystery fees can’t crop up later on and I have a single “extra” cost to deal with, say $210.34. When asked about the adding machine I said “it guarantees your accuracy and it’s paper tape can’t forget what was agreed to”

    3. I take dealer invoice, less rebates, less holdback (figure 3% of sticker) = price of vehicle x 1.06 (if 6%tax). Take taxed price + agreed to fees + 100 profit = “price I will pay right now” (keep in mind, extras fees have already been accounted for). Ask the salesperson to agree to the price, hinting I will buy and I have the check to do it with and this will be the quickest 15 min sale they ever did. I set my checkbook on the counter and told them this was unequivocally a “yes or no response, no negotiations whatsoever”. I told the salesman that I’m the one buying and make it very clear to the salesmanager I’m the bulldog and will not negotiate beyond a yes/no response. I got a yes.

    4. Now that they agreed, I asked them out of curiosity what trade might be worth. They realize I’m committed to the sale, but a bad trade in price at this point, could ruin my mood. Sure I may not get absolute top dollar (like a private sale) but my objective is to get rid of it at a fair price. If you like the trade in value, this comes right off the bottom line price agreed to earlier (or before tax depending on state laws).

    The price before any trade in I negotiated was almost 30% below sticker, and I agreed that sure they weren’t making the most on me, but another tick on the sales quota and a 15 min sales sure were nice for all involved.

    A rookie salesman nearby said “you sure busted his balls”, I got my car for less than what salespeople could buy them for. A blank check whipped out at just the right moment makes that “yes or no, no negotiations” answer their choice to make a big sale in 10 mins, or have it walk out the door and you can’t be caught offguard with any mysterious fees after you think you’ve snagged a great deal. The powers they had were taken away (trade/payments/extra fees) and I dictated their next decision.

    • LeeErinyes says:


      $100 profit? You don’t work for free… why should the dealership?

      I’m glad that dealership felt like taking it from you, because I’d have told you to get out.

  73. robertc1964 says:


    I had the exact same experience from TWO different Subaru dealerships (Redwood City, CA and Livermore, CA). The Redwood City guy handed me the keys, and right before he turned and walked away he said, “Try not to roll it.”

    The Livermore dealer said, “I’d come along with you, but I’d probably just get in the way.”

    I ended up buying a 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport from the Redwood City dealership and only paying 2.5% above list (I think it was “list”. Can’t remember what the term is.)

    The salesman and I sat down, and he just presented the price. No hassle. No pressure. No “four-square.” I’d done my homework so I knew that the price was fair for everyone.

    Seven years later I still love my Subaru, and it still rocks heavy.

    I really hope Subaru comes out with a diesel (and really, really hope it’s a plug-in diesel-hybrid), because I want to convert to burning vegetable waste oil, but don’t want to stop driving a Subaru.

  74. souhaite says:

    As a single female, I approached my first new car buying experience last year with a whole lot of trepidation. But I did my research at Edmunds and Consumer Reports, and can’t recommend the online quotes method highly enough.

    I got e-mail quotes from about 6 dealerships, played them off against each other, went to the lowest dealer with cash in hand, and walked away with a new Honda Fit for less than used ones have been selling on eBay lately (it’s apparently quite in demand).

    I was dealing with “internet sales managers” who (I’ve heard) don’t work on commission, and didn’t feel taken advantage of for a second. No sleazy changes in price, no last minute add-ons, no hard sell.

  75. hn333 says:

    I rather Walk. Cars are for suckers.

  76. LuvJones says:

    When we bought our latest vehilce we did all the haggling via fax. We didn’t step foot into the dealership(except for the intial test drive) UNTIL we were able to agree on a bottom line price.

  77. scorched03 says:

    gosh… this is a long list so i hope i didnt rewrite anything someone said.

    but some tricks and tips I’m gonna do next time I buy a car.

    1. fax around or anonymous email for quotes.
    2. compare them off each other and also as someone said have at least 2 solid offers with the detail
    3. goto the best one with quotes and before start talking put down a stopwatch. “i gotta be somewhere in 1 hr”
    4. if they pull crap out.. “sorry you just cut into your hour” or call up the other dealers
    5. financing, trade in are all separate. rinse and repeat

  78. rworne says:

    Two things I did when purchasing our Camry:
    1. I was pre-approved for the purchase price by our CU.
    2. Bring a calculator that does TVM (and learn now to use it)

    I went to the dealer and they did the 4-square. We also had on hand a calculator that did TVM. He came up with a payment, term in months, and value of the car. I punched in some numbers and found he was really trying to rook me over on the deal – 15% interest? On 50% down? That’s all they can do? Well, we got the car for a VERY good price but really crappy financing terms. I did my homework and kept focused on the out-the-door price and the price we got was about $1500 below the best deal I could come up with doing internet research.

    We signed for the car and went to our credit union which promptly refinanced us at 6% and cut a check right there for TMCC (Toyota Motor Credit Co).

    So in essence the dealer was willing to take a loss on the vehicle to screw us on the interest rate.

    A month or so later we got an offer from TMCC to buy back the car – a 100% refund. We declined.

  79. É®îç says:

    If you want to see this specific tactic in action, please watch the “fictional” movie Suckers where this is taught and explained. It may be a movie, but it makes you think of what really goes on behind the scenes while you’re waiting for the “manager” to “approve” of the deal.

    The movie is also hilarious, right up there with Glengarry Glen Ross.

  80. jpp123 says:

    Another vote for haggling by fax or email – When I bought my last car (an 06 Volvo XC70) I adopted the following strategy.

    1) get a test drive and be up front that I’m going to shop the net but offer them the chance to match any price I get (in the end they were not even close)

    2) email every dealer within 300 miles (a lot in the bay area)- within 24 hours I was down to dealer invoice and by the end of the week I got down to $5000 below invoice.

    3) arrange a time to go in and pay for and pick up the car.

    4) see old car on craigs list

    I could have saved another $500 by going to the LA area (Volvo of Santa Monica was offering to beat the price by that much) but I didn’t want to take the time. I was very pleased with the deal and the service I got from the dealer (in Fremont CA about 45 miles from home)

  81. Schmeg Peg says:

    To alterboy:

    Thanks a lot for keeping me up until 6am. I was about to head to bed around 4, and then you go ahead and link me to a really long and interesting article at Edmunds and I spend 2 hours reading it straight through.

    I’m in absolutely no position to buy a vehicle right now, and I found it quite interesting! I think anyone really serious about not getting screwed should read the article:

    You will come out really knowing in-depth what they’re up to, and what you should be up to. Plus it’s fun to read about how stereotypical the white-shirt-gold-watch-gold-tie wearing, high-fiving, back patting, fist bumping salesmen really were.

  82. holysmoke says:

    the dumbest farking purchase in the whole world is a new car!!!

    I hate new car dealers new car dealerships and the scams they get away with.

    buy a 2 or 3 year old car at the very least and let some other poor sucker pay that horrible depreciation for you.

    My favorite purchase is off lease cars with 3 years and 36k miles on them. I drive them until the wheels fall off and then do it again. I am never upside down either. I pay cash for these cars and buy them from private sellers and cash talks. No farking 900 dollar dealer fees and doc prep bullshit!

    Car dealers can die for all I care.

  83. mwexler says:

    The problem with all these comments and suggestions is the immense amount of TIME they all take. Anyone have any thoughts for someone who works long hours during the week and wants to see his kid and wife during the weekend instead of going to dealerships? Has anyone found good results from the Costco car buying service, for example?

    Yes, I know that next to my home, my car is my biggest expense and investments of this size take time and without doing the time, I’m inviting myself to be screwed, yadda, yadda.

    But life is a tradeoff of time and money. I don’t want to pay thousands more than I should… but I don’t want to spend 3 days visiting dealerships and haggling instead spending time with my family.

    Any suggestions for the best compromise approaches between obsessive negotiation and blind naivete?

  84. rleaf says:

    Last year my daughter wanted a car of a certain color (important!) and model. Since the car was produced with the color only for one year it was a scarce commodity. We searched the internet and found three vehicles meeting her criteria. The best priced and lowest mileage (14K miles) car was our first stop.

    While looking at the car, I phoned my credit union with the Vin number and was relayed value and history. Many credit unions provide this service for their customers.

    The salesman came out to us and while talking we got into negotiating mode. He put a stop to it pretty quick. “We don’t fool around with that here,” he said ” we only advertise on the internet and we put our bottom price on the cars we have.”

    I knew the price was exceptional from the internet and credit union research and the salesman was very clear about there policy. I noticed from his name tag that he was related to the owner of the new car dealership and was working the used car side with others.

    A number of dealerships have converted to the no-haggle style since the advent of the consumer education via internet and consumer reports. If you can find one of these dealers and don’t like the negotiation process do yourself a favor and find a “true” no haggle dealership, be armed with model information, maybe write down or phone in the VIN to a service that can give you price and history. You should be rewarded with a good deal.

  85. tanyetta says:

    Perfect Post!!!! found you by way of money blog! :)

  86. spinachdip says:

    @mwexler: Seems like emailing local dealerships for price quotes seems fairly simple and painless.

    After you get your quotes, send a second round of emails playing the dealers off each other, and once you figure out your financing, you can complete the purchase without ever going in the dealership doors.

    The most time-consuming step is setting up an anonymous Gmail account, which takes, what, 10 minutes?

  87. karmaghost says:

    Some great insight, but I’m not sure how much this really tells us “how to beat it.” Basically, the author just tells us how they’ll rip us off, but not how to deal with it. I think there are some assumptions that we could make based on this, but there’s not really any strategy mentioned.

  88. @Pelagius: Even better if you’re part of the freakish minority who pays for the car in full on the spot.

    The minute the “paperwork” starts getting sloppy I refuse to play. And not because they’re trying to scam me, but because I don’t deal with people who are that sloppy.

    Take a yellow legal pad and take your own notes. Yellow legal pads scare people.

    When dealing with a particularly sleazy or sexist dealer, I have on occasions asked them outright about the sexism, gone off about how the negotiated method of car buying is entirely outdated, or started an ethical discussion about how they can justify selling Hummers (or whatever) while being a (salesperson’s religion). It doesn’t do a lot for the price but it makes ME feel better and it derails their entire pitch.

    I always read the contract carefully but it’s funnier to bring my husband who reads at the speed of slow and goes over every clause with a fine-toothed comb while sitting right there. When they start getting visibly nervous, I say, “Oh, he’s a litigator. He’s like that. They have to read so carefully for court.” That’s when the sweat appears.

    Next car I’m going internet/fax all the way if I can. Amusing as it is to bait sleazy salespeople (and I’m happy to say I’ve dealt with ones who weren’t at all sleazy), it’s time-consuming.

  89. barrymyjohnson says:

    Okay, so here’s the deal. I am a car salesman in washington state. The four square has been portrayed in this article as a terrible thing that will cost the consumer more $ by sprinkling some magic dust over them. But that is not always the case. In some dishonest dealerships they may choose to work a four square like the above shown and any salesman that would choose to work in a less then open disclouser dealership, that salesman is choosing to mislead the customer. The bottom line is this: Trust your feelings, if you trust your salesman thats #1 because in the end we want you to come back and buy from us again which is why we want to make you 100% satisfied. Next Buy from the largest, oldest dealership you can find, they don’t have to make as much on every car, just sell lots of cars to make it up on volume, most large dealerships are also active in the community which brings me to my final point. The consumer will lie more often then not far more then even the worst salesman! Thats right it really is the truth. Finally, use your freaking head ! If the car is not affordable don’t buy it. If it dosn’t reach out and grab you buy your heart strings keep looking. educate yourself, you are the one that sighns the paperwork not us, so if you think you got”screwed” its really your fault, take responsiblity about the choices you make. One Last thing, carsalesman in the sixtys and seventys were making more then doctors, lawyers and presidents now because of the internet most consumers know more about the car they are buying then we do. We just want to help facilitate the process and make a fair profit. When you go to work you are garunteed an hourly rate we are only paid for what we produce which is why it makes it real hard to lie to a customer. Most reputable dealerships one of three things will get you fired: Lie, Cheat or Steal other then just sell cars so get off the negitivity find a salesman and a car you like and get a good deal thats it. BYE!

  90. bingo61 says:

    i recently bought a toyota camry. what i simple did is make a printout of the aaa invoice price of the model i want. brought it to the dealer and ask them if they can match that. i already have a preapproved loan then. they ask for a couple of hundred over the price and we got the deal.

  91. TechnoDestructo says:


    If you don’t sell your car to the dealer, and don’t finance through the dealer, you don’t need to bother with those things at the dealership. Also, “extras” are usually not a big deal, and you’re not likely to be able to do anything but get screwed on them at a dealer.

    So yeah, only negotiate the price.

    And make it clear that you are only talking OUT THE DOOR PRICE…INCLUDING ALL FEES. A lot of them, even if you tell them this a dozen times, will still try to stick “document fees” on top. They’ll claim they’re mandated by the state, and that they are for paying overhead and stuff…well, registration and title transfer is mandated, of course. But the state isn’t mandating 400 dollar “document fees.”

    GOD FUCKING DAMMIT I hate dealers in AZ.

  92. CGremlin says:


    Your methodology sounds suspiciously similar to my own, except I usually can’t be bothered to actually drive to the dealership until I have an acceptable, binding offer in hand via fax. :-)

    When buying a new car last month, I’d done my homework ahead of time and determined exactly what I was willing to pay out-the-door. It took a bit of time to find a dealer willing to work with that price, but I ended up paying substantially under the invoice listed on Edmund’s and got a couple hundred dollars’ worth of free options owing to the fact that the dealer had to do a swap to get the car in the color I wanted, and the swap had some more goodies that I wasn’t willing to pay for but was quite willing to accept at no cost. The only bump in the road was a bit of discussion I had with the dealer when they wanted to charge an additional $100 for tag/title fees. They backed down without incident when I pointed out the places in state law where the amounts of those fees are clearly defined, and told them I’d already accounted for tax/tag/title in my offer and that it wasn’t negotiable.

    I’d already had my financing worked out with my credit union ahead of time, so of course that was a *big* help. Something that people should know is that your bank or credit union will likely give you a simple-interest loan for a car, whereas a dealer will usually do a pre-computed loan. The difference is that paying off the simple-interest loan will reduce the amount of interest you pay, whereas the pre-computed loan will almost always put commit you to the full principal+interest, regardless of how quickly you pay it off. Furthermore, there’s a neat little trick called the “Rule of 78s” that allows the dealer to hose you even if you have a pre-computed loan that you *can* pay off early. If you are able to make early payments, there’s usually money to be saved by going with a simple-interest deal, but you should really look at each loan on its own merits – sometimes the dealer financing *is* a better deal, particularly if you can’t make early payments and the manufacturer is subsidizing a ridiculously low interest rate.

    Incidentally, we drove my wife’s old beater to the dealer to pick up the new car, and as I didn’t want to continue paying the extra insurance on it, I was curious to see if the dealer would be interested in an outright purchase. As it turns out, one of the salesman personally bought the car for about $200 more than I was reasonably expecting to get for it at a private sale. :-D

  93. Salesman4U says:

    I really love how everyone on here is so bitter and hateful towards dealerships. Even if you think the dealership is being nice to you, you take that as a slap in the face because they want you to buy a car. Why is PROFIT such a bad word to all of you? Why do you think $100 PROFIT is fair on a $20000 vehicle? Have you added up the PROFIT recently in your closet or living room? Have you thought about the PROFIT that you pay to anyone OTHER than the dealership you are buying a car from? AND, I would really love to know, for those of you who think $100 PROFIT AFTER rebates and holdback and invoice taken into considerattion, means that the salesperson is still getting rich off of you.

    I bought a car once. I was taken advantage of. I realize that, and the salesperson did a good job taking care of me. When I got into the business, I was mad at him for a while, but he was just doing his job, as I do mine and make my money when I can.

    Usually those of you who like to take 3 days of my time up just to shop my price around, threaten to buy it elsewhere after I have spent my time selling you on the vehicle, and then come back wanting the car for less than I paid for it, I make $100. That’s it, that is all. $100 kids. I have had people act like I should be oh so thankful that they are paying my rent for the next month because they are buying a car from me for under invoice. NewsFlash, after taxes you are paying for a tank of gas.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for all of my sales. I am very good at my customer relations, and I take care of my customers long after the purchase of their vehicle. And they always come back to me.

    Another salesperson at my dealership has had a guy who has bought 3 cars from her. He calls every other dealership, gets a price, then calls her. I really don’t mind this, I have had a lady do the same thing, and she always buys the car from me. But this guy told his salesperson that he figured she has made several thousands of dollars from his purchases, doesn’t that make her happy? She pulled at her commission slips from his two previous sales and showed him that in total, including this third vehicle, she will have made $300. Not to mention this guy is a bit of a jerk and demanding.

    Again, I am thankful for my customers. I treat the ones that I make $100 from the same as the ones that I make $500 from. But I pay my bills after working very hard, not from “screwing” the likes of you all. I realize that the automobile world has opened itself up to be a negotiating process, that is fine, but dealers have to start out high so that they can make SOME $ on SOME people.

    However, I must say, I had some foreigners that I am very thankful for. Those who come from India love negotiating. They will negotiate for 3 days until they finally realize you can’t do the price they want. I had some very nice customers from India who had purchased 4 cars previously from my dealership. They wanted a 2006 van. We had one left. Management was offering $1000 commission on these vehicles. I didn’t car what they dealership lost, I made $!000 off of someone who normally I would make $100 from. I was happy.

    I would be interested to hear some thoughts from everyone reading these posts as to what you think these scummy salespeople are making off of you.

  94. drewstyle says:

    Having worked as a consultant in the banking industry, I must note that dealers get better rates than bank branches due to volume and other factors (competition with other banks for the dealer’s loans). I don’t know if this carries over to Credit Unions, but it is worth mentioning.

  95. CFR says:

    This is some awesome information, and well, my dad has a used car dealership so I have come to learn various tricks of the trade. But since we are not big business we just stick to some lower scale methods that still get the money. One is raising the price through the roof. Be careful on those dealerships that dont put the price of the car anywhere. If the price the dealership has for the car is say 6,000 then the salesperson will just tell you they are selling it for 9,000, then they act like they are your friend and then drop the price to 7,500. You feel like you just made a bargain and outsmarted the dealership and the dealership has 1,500 extra. It’s an amazing business to be in, which is why i want to open one of my own as soon as im out of college.

  96. mac-phisto says:

    @Salesman4U: i used to work in sales & i know how you feel, but that said, i just spoke to a friend who was offered the following deal on a 2007 ford focus:

    trade in: $500 on beat-up corolla (ok, i understand that)
    price: $14,600 after rebate (seems fair – don’t really know what they sell for)
    down payment: $1,500
    monthly payment: $320

    now according to the car salesman, that’s $320/mo. for 5 years (or $380/mo. for 4 years, or $470/mo. for 3 years) @ 7.0%. hmm…something doesn’t compute. anybody else see a problem here?

  97. Salesman4U says:

    @mac-phisto: Hmm, that’s a good one. Now, we use a range to quote payments, to leave $ open to buy warranties and such. If you commit to a $320, and at $305 can get a bunch of warranties, easier for finance to do that, which is understandable.
    Also, throw in taxes, fees, not sure what else is figured in that price. Obviously if your friend was financing around $12500, not really close in payments there. :)
    And I always appreciate the customers who really don’t blame me for anything sent out by management. I don’t make the numbers, and I don’t determine the selling price. I am just trying to earn a living. :) There is a good chance that the salesperson was just told what payment to quote your friend, and isn’t able to question management.
    I am coming off of a very rough weekend at work, and I am tired and a bit bitter. :)

    @Eyebrows McGee: I am curious as to what selling Hummers or automobiles has to do with religious beliefs. Are you suggesting that I can’t be a Christian and sell cars, or did I misread something in your statement?

    For the record, I am a Christian. And I am not just a Sunday morning church goer.

    @barrymyjohnson: Thank you for commenting on the consumer lying more often than the salesperson. This couldn’t be a truer statement: BUYERS ARE LIARS.

    Also, the above mentioned buying from someone you like and trust. I have no idea why some people don’t do this. “I sure like you, but Joe Blow told me over the phone he will save me $50. I have never met him, coudn’t pick him out if he were alone in a restaraunt, but I must save that money. Thanks for your help.”

    Good times. Live, Love, Laugh, and buy Honda

  98. mikull says:

    my Eyes are BURNING! sorry, but i actually read all the comments here, and there was some really great information. since there is so much, i would like to contribute a different point of view.

    the real answer i see with many of your dealers is: it depends.

    i’m biased of course, but i happen to know a dealer really well- my dad. quick note: Not all the dealers are scumbags. My dad went to a trade school for printing, worked on a printing press for decades, and finally got laid off without any help from his union. close to retirement, he took the best area job he was skilled to do, which freaked me out the first time i heard it~ car salesman!

    i’ve been a bit wise to the info in this article even before my inside connection, thanks to one devious uncle- and i’ve really seen a lot of scumbags myself, rest assured. one thing that seems true all around, however, is how much of a scumbag the boss of the dealership is.

    these are the guys nailing the salesman to the wall. my dad, after being at the dealership for only a couple of years, became one of the guys who had worked there the longest. the pressure applied to salesman can be unreal- and i only saw one or two people in all those comments say it, but these people are working for a living too.

    i’m not saying you shouldn’t use all the great advice here, but feel out your guy. my dad will start with the numbers he’s been told, and go from there. he, like many, get a flat fee per car sold regardless as to how much you spend. he secretly wants you to take the owner for a ride, because he hates being there as much as you- but he has a job to do.

    I asked him why, after all these years, hasn’t the general public gotten wise to all this? He told me: son, sadly, there’s a sucker born every minute. He said he doesn’t even have to try that hard to find them even now. He pointed out, however, that for him it’s still about volume. 5 news cars at great deals for the buyer means $5000 for him. 1 car where he rips off the guy is still only $1000. There’s a balance, he explained, between getting the numbers for himself and getting the numbers for the boss.

    I asked if he felt bad about some of the deals people got ripped on- and he said no, flat out. He’s got healthcare and bills to pay, and although he’s saved he’s still nervous about tomorrow. He’s a blue collar guy, a veteran, and still my hero. Like I said, there’s some real scumbags on the showroom floor- but in some places, there’s guys like my Dad. Feel them out, make your best deals- but try not to take it too personal. Calm, cool and collected is the best way to haggle with anyway.

  99. sk07041 says:

    I just bought a new car for $16125.00 and the dealer is charging me the following in fees. They seem like a lot to me and thought I check with my fellow consumerists to see if they are normal. I am in New Jersey.

    Tax – 1128.78
    dept. of motor vehicle fees – 234.20
    Doc fees – 289.00

    I searched the DMV site but couldn’t find any regulatory limits on these so I am afraid I might be getting ripped off here. I’d appreciate any help on this matter.

  100. Salesman4U says:

    5 cars = $5000? I feel as though I may be a the wrong dealership. I would be very wealthy if I made that. Seems like an odd way for the dealership to make any money, though. @mikull: If you happen to read this again, whatt sort of manufacturer does your father work for?

  101. Salesman4U says:

    @sk07041: I have no idea about the tax or Dept of motor vehicle fee. At the dealership I work at we charge $399.50 for our Doc fee. This is something even I have to pay when buying a car. If someone complains too hard about it we will subtract it from the price (if room) however, we can’t remove the fee from our paperwork.

    I know in Illinois they can’t charge any more than $59 for a doc fee. I guess some states have a limit and some do not.

  102. Tonguetied says:

    I was going to say something along those lines but your comment was much better stated.

  103. Tonguetied says:

    @Tonguetied: Damnit I was replying to castlecraver’s comment…

    @Ayrton Senna:
    If they can get to the payment I want, I don’t care if they’re robbing me blind on the rate; good for them.

    Wow. And I thought the image of a customer walking in with “sucker” written on his forehead was just a metaphor.

  104. mikull says:

    @Salesman4U – my apologies, I was just using hypothetical numbers. I’m sure it’s not that much; I just no it’s a flat rate per car sold.

  105. konicaman says:

    I tried to sell cars for a month or two way back in 1984. I worked at a Datsun dealership in West Palm. I must have been the worst salesman ever. I do remember that we were supposed to use this trick. It is exactly like it was over 20 years ago. We sold one station wagon to a nice family thousands of dollars more than it should have been, and I’ve always remembered and felt bad about it. What a ripoff the car business is.

  106. Canadian Impostor says:

    I got my 06 VW GTI at invoice by walking in, sitting down, and telling the salesman I really wanted the car. I had done my homework and knew the invoice price, so when he came back with a horrible price because he thought I was a sucker I told him that I’d have to call my dad and ask him about it, since he knew a lot about buying cars.

    The salesman said maybe they could do something better left and came back. Then I told him that if I just signed a deal without calling my old man that he’d never let me live it down.

    I kept that cycle up until I paid invoice for my car. I encourage other young car buyers to use bizarre negotiation tactics.

  107. muddgirl says:

    I bought a car last August from a local dealership.

    1) I refused to sign the “I agree to walk out with the car if we can agree on a price” line. It’s pretty simple, I just said, “I won’t sign anything until we work out the details.” Well, I signed it AFTER we agreed on the price, but by then the car was sold.

    2) We didn’t talk about financing until after I agreed on a price.

    3) After test driving the car and getting a ridiculously high price (“minus factory to dealer incentives!”), I went home and looked up the Edmunds and KBB values, subtracted the FtDI and $500 for my troubles.

    4) When I took that number to the sales guy, he “took it to his general manager”, who said, “I couldn’t possibly sell it for less than my price + $250.” Whatever.

    5) I still got screwed on the financing, since by the time I was in front of the loan officer, I’d been in the dealership for 5 hours! Get a loan before you step foot in the dealership, because that’s where I really got screwed.

  108. Tankueray says:

    I read this article on Friday and bought a used Yukon on Saturday. When the dealer pulled out the four square I knew just what to expect. Thanks Consumerist!

  109. surrogate says:

    For whatever it’s worth-here’s my input: you vote with your dollars in this country, and every time someone gives in to the pressure sales and typical car dealer, it’s only reinforcing the cycle. First off, you should buy used and let someone else take that huge first depreciation hit, even if the car is a demo or only has 10k miles. Second, if you have to buy new, look for no-haggle dealers-they are out there. I bought a new subaru from van bortel in NY (I’m in TN) at an awesome price, and they offer no-haggle and low pricing on all their cars. For this reason, they are the now the largest subie dealer, and also get frequent death threats from other dealers, so I was told by the salesman. Aside from that, decide on what you want and the price and just start calling until someone bites. Once you enter the dealership, you’re at a disadvantage even if you’ve done your homework.

  110. Trackback says:

    The Consumerist has a very enlightening article from a former used car salesman about the tricks that he used on customers, and how to recognize them.

  111. qxe says:

    One trick I’ve noticed here in Arizona is that they advertise vehicles on eBay for a certian price, then when you call they say, “sure, that car’s right here on the lot!”, but when you come down it’s always “just been sold by another salesman”, and they try to upsell you on another vehicle. Classic bait and switch. Has anyone else seen this eBay tactic here?

  112. twink99 says:

    I bought my present car 10 years ago. At the time I didn’t have a car but I had the cash to buy one without financing of any kind. I’m a professional, but deliberately wore unstylish-looking clothes to the dealership. I then selected a brand-new but stripped-down Honda Civic, with air conditioning as the only option. I don’t recall discussing a financing plan with the salesman; if I was asked, I would have deferred the subject (because I’d intended to pay cash all along). Anyway, we signed the deal and then I brought out my checkbook. You should have seen his shock! He ushered me into the sales manager’s office, who stared at me sternly. He actually upbraided me! “Do you know that hardly anyone pays cash for their vehicle?” he said, in a righteous voice that suggested he had caught me with wrench and box cutter on the way to steal the cash register. I sat there, wondering what more he could say, all the while enjoying my victory. I’m saving up to do it again in a few years – but fortunately for me, Hondas are built to last a long time!

  113. ahjkgmd says:

    Ok….listen up all you car buyers!!! I am talking to all of you regardless of your situation down payment or credit.

    Here is how you turn the tables on car dealers.

    First….get your own financing before stepping foot on a car lot. Iknow I know everyone says this. here is the catch DO NOT TELL THE DEALERSHIP YOU HAVE FINANCING.


    Even if you have bad credit you can get financing before you step foot on to a lot.

    Second…..Pick the car you want that fits into your budget based on sticker price.

    Third…research bealer incentives…dealer cost….destination…do not be stupid and pick you car based on what you think the dealer pays…and having this number fit your budget…you will only frustrate your self and spoil your new car experience.

    Fourth….. go on the lot and be stupid…find the car you want …… do not let on that you know anything about the car much less car buying…..EXCEPT price….. mention price…. mention price alot…. do not say a word about payments or interest…… DO NOT CARE ABOUT payments or interest (bear with me here) after you pick your car and have peppered the coversation with price sensitive terminology….think about mentioning that you hope you can get financed…….you are not sure what your credit is and hope it doesnt cause problems cause you really like the car and hope they can finance you…… YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOUR CREDIT SCORE IS

    NOW… haggle price price price…… four square closing is the most common… if you get this method focus on price… ignore payments and interest rates…..

    Dealers will actually cut deals to below cost if they think they can make it up on some exorbitant interest rate….you can tap into kickback reserve advertising as well as destination fees if you play this well enough. Take the extended warranty… maximum and zero deductible……. mention this early on also… that you will be taking the extended warranty……

    Now leave the dealership with all pertinant paperwork ……. and have your credit union or other previously arranged financing institution …or if you are paying cash…. pay off the car.

    WHY YOU ASK…. because the bulk of money in a dealership is made on the back end… by service contracts and financing kickbacks….. financing institution offer dealers “BUY rates” for specific customers and delares kick this up to make more money…… the financing comapny and the warranty company come to the dealership and emand money back when you pay off the car with cash or your other fonanacing…… they knocked the deal down to bare minimum and sometimes loss to make what they think is more money on the back end…. and you walk away with a sweet deal…….

  114. Tallman says:

    I’m a former used-car salesman… I used to tell girls I met “Trust me! I’m a used-car salesman.” It always was a good ice-breaker. To add to the article, if a customer had no cash/check I would ask for an unusual item… always with my back turned and my hand extended backwards. I would say, “Since you haven’t got a check, give me your necklace/hat/watch/etc.” to make the customer feel like they owned the car. You’d be surprised how hard it was for them to say no to me as I was about to go “fight” for them. On one occasion, I even got a shoe to secure the car.

  115. farmboy says:

    In a former version of life I ran a business that worked closely with car dealerships- detailing used vehicles and providing the new car protection packages; rustproofing paint sealant and fabric protection. Many of the dealerships expected to charge our retail prices or higher while paying 25% or less for the services. Definately shop for these type items or accessories after the vehicle purchase is over. We developed friendships with some of the long-time salesmen, and they too would pull the trigger on a deal making as little as $75 on a new car. Used cars usually offered a better margin. My favorite story was of the many buyers who entered the showroom, breezed right past the salesmen, bragging about a trip to see their buddy, the dealership owner. Once the smoke cleared, the owner had bent them over the desk on a deal the salesmen never would have dreamed of, thanks buddy!

  116. mihy says:

    In partial response to Surrogate, ahjkgmd;

    If you can get over the ‘stigma’ of a used car there can be a lot of great deals out there. Also line up your cash BEFORE you go shopping for a car. Often you can get a great rate on a line of credit if you are in good standing with your financial instituion. The reason for doing this is there usually isn’t any dealer incentives or fantastic interest rates for used vehicles.

    Consider lease-backs or former fleet/rental cars. If you deal with a reputable dealer they will be mechanically fit, clean, detailed and most of the time smoke-free. I chose to buy a N.American mid-size car, not just out of patriotism but because you can get some really great deals on domestic vehicles if you look around as well as a WIDE SELECTION. I live in Canada ( up where the water freezes faster ) but this is similar all over. I have used this method a couple of times, most recently January of 2005 on a 2004 model that I had picked out. It was a cold Saturday and not a lot of customers and I had already been to a couple dealers already, read consumer reports and had an idea of the prices. The Ford dealer I chose had just gotten in three dozen assorted 2004 Taurus (sedans, wagons)and was slated to get in several more and the longer the cars sit there the more it costs them. They had them sorted into 3 or 4 price categories depending upon the mileage. The options supplied are certainly above base models and that usually includes power windows/driver seat/locks/AC/pedals/puddle lamps/leather steering/alloy wheels and other nice items. And you don’t have to negotiate for B.S. items such as the floor mats.

    After a test drive I picked out 3 units with colors I liked. I had my eye on one sedan in category 1 (lowest kilometers)but concentrated the dealing on the two category 2 cars, got it down to a very nice lower price with a couple of the ‘back-and-forth’ trips to the manager, discussed financing, down payment and monthly payments through the dealer,etc. and then give the old ‘Ah, let me think about it, thanks for your time’ routine and got up out of my chair. The sales guy didn’t want to lose a potential sale and came back with the ‘What can we do to make you sign?’. I came back with ‘Well, tell you what, let me have that category 1 car for the price we just negotiated on the category 2 car and we’ve got a deal.

    There was some humming’n’hawing and a trip to the manager but in the end they gave me the cat. 1 car for the cat. 2 negotiated price. They then proceeded to set out the monthly payment plan. I set out my cheque book and paid for it right there.

    Yep, they were a bit taken back but what could they do?

    In the end I picked up that one year old car that had only 8500km (5300 miles) on it with the balance of warranty for just over half of the new price.

    Having owned both domestic and Pacific rim cars I can honestly say you get a bigger bang for your buck on a domestic vehicle. Dealers of foreign cars are not as apt to cut you any real deals on their products – and their cars have problems too. The money you will save in purchasing a recently used vehicle will more than put a grin on your face.

  117. Landcrusher says:

    Here is another strategy. Anyone using the 4 square is likely a crook. Go in on a Saturday properly armed. Go through the whole process like you are having fun, and ready to buy a car. Start with a lesser car, and let the salesman “sell you up” to the nicer model you wanted anyway. What you want is for them to propose an outrageously fat deal.

    You are playing the part of someone who is a great mark. Don’t let on that you know what deal you want, only that you were happy, but now are confused, and think the deal just doesn’t seem right. Say I don’t know, or nothing, a lot. Say little else unless it’s in the form of a question.

    When the deal gets going, start dragging your feet, but keep the salesman with you answering questions, going over numbers, explaining everything again. Plan to be there for hours. You can easily save over a hundred an hour doing this.

    The whole time he is with you, he is not selling cars. He will likely start to get frustrated, and his boss will be furious. They are likely to rudely get rid of you. Great, use that against them when you complain to the manufacturer and tell him about the deal they wanted. Then tell him you found out on the internet since leaving that the dealer is a scumbag, and was trying to make several thousand dollars on the deal. You now (this is part of the act )know what a fair price should be (About $500 less than you would actually do the deal for). Ask why they keep a dealer around who treats people like they treated you.

    Sometimes, the original dealer will wise up before getting rid of you and offer you a deal you want (assuming its a fair deal), but if he acts rudely, then you get the manufacturer involved. They will likely help you get the deal with the original dealer, or a different one.


  118. My2cents says:

    Great site for car buying info.
    I have worked many years in finance at a dealer.
    I have to stress the fact that you need to do your homework before walking into a dealer. Once you agree to a selling price of the vehicle you need to be extremely careful of all the “extras” that they will try to add to your order in the finance office. Glass etching, Doc fees, dealer prep, pin stripe, tire & wheel warranty, paint sealant, and the list goes on and on. The dealer makes a huge profit on the “backend” products.

    Want to save a couple of bucks? Refuse to pay the Doc Fee and glass etch fee. Doc fees($149 – $299)are treated as pure profit to the dealers bottom line. They are pre-printed on the orders to create the illusion they are mandatory.
    Glass etching is typically applied to all vehicles on the lot and they will tell you they do this for insurance purposes and will be charging you $149 to transfer the policy to your name. Fact: glass etch costs from $0 – $5 per car for the labels placed on the car. The “etch registration” actually costs about $25 to the dealer but only once the customer signs and accepts it. Refuse to pay these fees or get up and start to walk out. Watch how fast the manager will try to negotiate them or remove them completely.
    I know of a dealer that uses a special buyers order for their “Used” vehicles that has over $900 in dealer fees pre-printed on it. Dealers collect more than 90% of the fees they try to charge customers for.

  119. the costco program is useless. You’re better off getting quotes from Edmunds (via an anonymous email (

    i eventually settled on a VW, the only dealer in the state on the costco program was 200 miles away from me. their financing partnership with capitol one was … *insulting* at best. almost double the incentivized rate for the same term.

    ultimately, the internet sales option via email and going through the TMV price links on edmunds worked for us. They beat the TMV, and got pretty close to invoice. $550 over. Not bad, not great.

    the finance guy was a piece of work; however. tried to take 1% extra on the note, hardball on their ‘armor’ and insurance.

  120. gopack16 says:

    I am a finance director at a large dealer and we do use the 4 square….HOWEVER it is not used in the direction stated in this article….not to say that isn’t used that way…it is..
    Like any tool it is the intent of the user.
    We actually use it to isolate the objections to make it easier for the customer to make an informed decision, whether payiong cash, going to their Credit Union or what ever….
    We value every customer that comes in here, we are a larege dealer in a medium to small town, we value our reputation greatly….if we used it the way other dealers do or that is portrayed here we would cease to exist.
    IF you look at it the way we do you would agree that seeing every part of the transaction broken down in fornt of you…DISCLOSED..if you will it helps the customer have input in the purchase unlike most other dealers that cram the 4 square process down your throat….yes it can be a leathal weapon for a dealer if done properly on the right customer….In a perfect world a customer is well informed in the pricing/invoice/ rebates etc….put that customer in front of a profession salesman/women w/ a proper 4 square everybody wins…a car is sold in a timely fashion and we have a completely satisfied customer and a salesperson who is not tied up for 3-4 hours trying to screw someone…the name of the game is volume….if we make a strong profit …GREAT..if we make a Dollar or TWO the is good as well….People need to be aware that the sale of the vehicle..mostly on the new purchase… is not what drives a new car dealer, it is the service dpt…
    We make our money on certain vehicles certailnly not the ones that we have 40 of instock…more so on the ZO6 Vettes etc..
    We are a good down home dealer that cherishes each customer….our owner is actually here everyday and is more thatn willing to sit down with you and get to know you…
    We are the exception to the other SCUMBAGS out there..I hate that you all have to deal with the CHEESE HEADS that give us all bad names but as long as they are there it makes our job easier….because once you arrive here your defenses come down…BUying a car does not need to be Battle Royal nor does selling one….it should be easy and enjoyable….
    As a costomer I am not afraid to be strong and inquisitive….nor should all of you…
    A fair deal is where everyone wins…if it is one way then that would be masturbation…..either on my side of the desk or yours…keep your guards up until you feel comfortable with the dealer or the people you are dealing with.

  121. burtf51 says:

    “Now for the rest of the story” Being a car salesman, I’ve seen it all. Salesman and F&I that will slam dunk someone every chance they get.

    I’ve been very fortunate in that I have a great repeat customer base, which I might add, I take care of them after the purchase. I pick their cars up for service work, if they need to leave their car in service I arrange to get them a loaner vehicle at no cost to my customer. I’ve even loaned customers special vehicles (like a 15 passenger van) for school or church trips. The list goes on and on (Service after the sale)

    On the other hand, I’ve waited on many many customers who will make the most unscrupulous car salesman look like an alter boy. Most of the unknown customers I wait on are all the same. They want the dealership to give them top retail money for their trade and want the dealership to sell their car at a wholesale price.

    NADA & Bluebook are only a guide in a perfect world as to used car values. This does not mean the dealer was able to trade for this amount. Many times they have to put more into a trade than ACV, then there could be service charges added because of undisclosed or undiscovered problems with the car after the trade.

    So the beat goes on. The buyer doesn’t want the dealership to make any money and the dealership needs to make a profit to stay in business. I don’t quite understand why car buyers don’t think the salesman or dealership should make a profit.

    A day in the life of a car salesman is no easy task. Try spending 12 hours a day tromping the concrete, moving cars around in the heat and cold, dealing with 9 out of 10 people that couldn’t buy a can of beans on credit and then the one that can buy beats you down to making nothing on the sale. Now this person may have gotten a pretty good deal but you can bet the salesman isn’t gonna bend over backwards to help the person who all but called you a crook from the get go and thought you don’t deserve to be compensated for all the time spent selling them a car at cost.

    Look, car salesman know all about the old, “No, I don’t have a trade trick” “Just give me your bottom line on a straight sale” and then they want you to appraise their trade in. Cut the crap, if you got a trade, just say so! Tell the salesman you have a trade and to work the prices in “Real Money”. Now who’s trying to beat who? Car salesman have to be on the defense because, shhhhh, customers sometimes will tell you a lie.

    All my repeat customers know I have to make money, they know I am going to give them a good deal, generally I will make $500 – $1000 gross profit on a vehicle, of which I get 25% and they have no problem with this. The benefits of “Service after the sale” are tremendous compared to “No service after the sale” for those who think the car salesman is a crook and doesn’t deserve to support his family.

    And that’s all I got to say for now.

  122. dreamingmage says:

    I’ve only seen four-squares twice in my life.

    The first time, I was just 17, and my uncle, (an ex used-car salesman) went with me. He turned the “confusing overwriting” on it’s head… he took out a marker and wrote over everyone else’s notes what we would accept. It worked.

    Years later, when presented with a four-square, I remembered this. By a twist of fate, I had a blue Sharpie in my pocket. I overmarked the foursquare with what I would accept… and it worked.

    I still got taken, a bit. The car, which had a fabulous body and interior, had a blown head gasket, but the dealership had the wisdom to replace the oil and top off the water frequently, causing that to be overlooked by my mechanic.

    Even with the replacement engine I bought, I drove the car for over a year, then sold it for a (tiny) net profit.

    The man who bought it from me tried another used-car buying trick. He kept spreading larger and larger sums of cash in front of me (mostly in 20-dollar bills) I’d seen this trick before, and even used it. (I worked for a time in the Southeast in real estate developement. The same trick is used there. Grown men will melt and sell their souls for a briefcase full of 20-dollar bills, even when what they are getting is half of their asking price.) I just kept pointing at my “firm” price soaped on the windshield, and told him I’d seen much more cash than that before. He caved and payed my firm price.

  123. RStewie says:


    Call your local tag/lisence office and find out how they figure the money.

    I bought a car just 3 months ago for $16000, paid $450 in taxes, $0 for my tag (Disabled Vet), and $60 for my annual tags. This was in AL, too.

    I had to wrangle with them to get the formula they use to figure it, though, for the taxes.

  124. dead-money says:

    it amazes me that strokes will go to a car lot and even start to negotiate. first off, the price is right on the sticker of all new cars. if this price is too much, you cant afford it, or move on to something you can afford. profit is not a bad word. do you morons go to wal mart and try to negotiate a price on a gallon of milk? or even worse, ask for the invoice? I am sure there are folks who try. what about when you go to mc donalds, do you tell them you don t want a drink, then ask for it later? there are a lot of smart consumers out there, do your homework, but dont stop on my lot 5 years before you are ready to purchase. bring your wife, dad, neighbor, etc… when you are getting these figures and be ready to do business. if you have to sell your dog first, or move your piano, before you buy, then do that first. dont waste anyones time if you are not a buyer. one last thing, BUYERS ARE LIARS.
    I cannot tell how many times i have seen a salesman who could not make it in the business write an article on how to buy a car. it makes me sick.
    If you want Kelly Blue Book for your trade in, sell it to Kelly, they just might write a check for it. lol

  125. joenintiesc says:

    Does anyone know if buying from a Ford dealership using their X-Plan is really a legitimate way to avoid all the nonsense as described here? Supposedly if you can get an X-Plan pin number, you can get the vehicle for a significantly lower price than through haggling, no extra dealer fees are tacked on, and you are still eligible for any incentives that are in effect.

    Any feedback from anyone in the know?

  126. allison3331 says:

    This four square is completely, in-accurate, and rediculous!!! The four square is basically designed to show payment based on money down, trade, terms, with warranty, gap insurance and any other additional options that the dealership has to offer, this is why when you get into the business office, generally they will use a menu to offer you options that are available.

    This comment you wrote about arranging financing before you arrive is also stupid, what if the dealership can offer a better rate, should the consumer pay more for their car each month???? How about paying cash??? Is that smart? NO! when you pay cash for a car, you are dumping your positive cash flow into a depreciating asset, you are throwing your money out the window. What if you totaled your car? what if it got stolen? HOW MUCH money do you think the insurance company is going to give you????
    Here is another reason why…….unless you have no existing debt, like a home, credit cards and you are as wealthy as Warren Buffett, you should drop your cash into your home firstly, because the cash applied to principal will SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE YOUR INTEREST THAT YOU WOULD BE PAYING ON YOUR HOME. The interest you pay on a car is nominal compared to the interset you pay on your home. Check this out on….typically depending on the type of loan you have with your mortgage, using myself as an example, dropping 30k into my home will save me over 120k over the course of my 30 year fixed loan.
    It really takes some common sense to figure these things out, but uneducated consumers who only look to “get over” on the dealers because the dealers are all just”scumbags”,and are just trying to screw everyone who walks through the door, end up screwing themselves over.
    The guy who initiated this post is obviously not very seasoned in the car business, and must be some disgruntled employee that got fired for not showing up on time or something stupid, because he did not sell any cars, probably could’nt even close an open face sandwich, who thinks by posting this is helping out the consumer, when it is like the blind leading the blind!
    “A poor mind is worse than an empty bank account”.

  127. Ninjanice says:

    The last time I was shopping for a new car, I had a horrible experience with a salesman that tried this approach on me. I was looking at either a Honda Civic or a Mazda Miata. I had a friend wth me that was also looking for a Civic. I clled the dealership and told them what we were quoted for a Civic at another dealership and they assured me they could beat that deal- especially because there were 2 car sales involved. I had already looked at the Miata and was approved through Capital One for 5.75% APR for the Miata. When my friend and I went to the Honda dealership, they tried the whole 4 square thing on me. When I saw how high the payments were, I was flabbergasted and they treated me like I had the worst credit ever and they were doing me a favor. Then I looked at the manager’s desk and happened to see a list of banks they work with and Capital One was one of them. I told them that I was already approved through Capital One for less than half the APR they wanted to charge me (they quoted me 12% and I have decent credit). The whole ordeal ended up with the salesman and the manager literally backing me into a corner and yelling at me that they came up with the numbers that I asked for and that I had said I was committed to buying a vehicle that night, but I lied, etc. So I said, “well, why don’t you see what APR Capital One will give me since I’m already approved at a much lower rate for different car that they said was a piece of crap. If Capital One will approve me for a piece of crap, I’m sure they’ll go even lower since the Civic is such a good car according to you.” They refused and I left with my friend. He bought a Civic from another dealer. I decided I didn’t want to get the Miata so I bought a Toyota and they were awesome!

  128. Anonymous says:

    Thanks! I just got back from a Mazda dealership today. I walked out I was so disgusted. He pulled out the four square piece of paper and began trying to scam me immediately. I had no idea what the four sqaures meant. I just walked out because I could tell he was a cheesy scam artist, but now I know. Thanks again!

  129. Anonymous says:

    I disagree on one point in this article – dealers *will* negotiate from trade-in values garnered from websites like and, but they might not like it.

    They usually don’t like it because it usually decreases the profit they make by turning your trade around and selling it at an Auction value (typically about $2k higher) or better, if you have a nice trade, at Retail on their front line.

    Best bet if you have the time and can avoid the scammers is to sell your car Private Party – you’ll make more money.

  130. Anonymous says:

    I agree, it’s at the finance office where they really try to screw you over. I find these days that the salesmen are pretty honest and upfront, but when you go into the finance office, all the numbers are changed. You have to really watch the guy and pay attention. I caught the guy several times writing down the wrong figure that had been agreed upon with the salesman, and the finance guy always gave this, “Hmmm, how that happen?” fake innocent reaction.

  131. Anonymous says:

    Hey Ben,
    Nice overview.You really did a good job of making the process transparent though you sound a little bitter.
    One factor you might have mentioned. Get your loan from a bank, but do not tell that to the salesperson. allow them to give up profit in other “squares” and make it all on finance. Sign all the contracts and then once signed-off by mgmt, use your own financing and enjoy a great deal. :-) EJ

  132. financegurl says:

    I am not surprised at all the bad talk about dealers, but I have to say, we are not all bad! I am one of the F&I people, and I truly care about my customers. I always try to do right by my customers. I will always try to beat your rate quoted by your bank, and go over how your rates are compounded etc.

    A lot of people think they are getting better rates at their own banks because the number sounds good, but don’t realize that the way the rate is compounded, you are actually paying a much higher amount when all is said and done. Like paying on your line of credit for instance, or an open loan etc.

    Anyways, don’t throw us all into the same barrel! I am not one of the sleeze bags! I know they are out there, but we arent ALL bad apples!